Bill Walsh was a believer in parting ways with players a year too early rather than a year too late. In spite of relationships a coach and front office might build with players, the NFL is a cold business. With very little in the way of guaranteed salaries, teams are always on the lookout for getting younger and cheaper.
A lot of players likely don't recognize the full realities of these relationships, but Joe Staley is certainly not one of them. Offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins met with the media on Thursday, and when asked about offensive line competition, he said that basically every spot on the line was up for competition except for Joe Staley. He didn't say Joe Staley is clearly the left tackle, but it was well implied.
Staley was asked about the offensive line and if it was good having competition at several spots:
Always. Yea, competition is always healthy. I think any time, even for myself, getting up there in age, I know that people upstairs are starting to look at my age, and think, does he still have it. Fans are probably looking at that, too. So, any time you have competition, looking to bring someone in to push you kind of motivates someone, and I think that always is beneficial, not just to offensive linemen, but to everybody.
Staley signed a six-year extension in 2014 that could keep him with the 49ers through the 2019 season. His cap number this season is $8.3 million, and spikes next year at $11.15 million. In 2018 and 2019, it goes down to $7.7 million each year. Cap space is really not an issue right now, but it is still something to keep in mind. And while I don't see a cap-related cut coming anytime soon with Staley, if he does show signs of slippage, the team will not hesitate to consider their alternatives.
For now, they don't have a left tackle of the future. Fahn Cooper and John Theus are competing for swing roles, with Trenton Brown and Erik Pears competing at right tackle. At some point they'll need to replace Joe Staley, but for now, there is no real concern.