The San Francisco 49ers have seen plenty of turnover in recent years, but one loss that still stings is tight end Delanie Walker. The ultimate Swiss Army Knife player in San Francisco, Walker left after the 2012 season, signing a four-year contract with the Tennessee Titans, worth $17.5 million and $8.6 million fully guaranteed.
At the time, the contract seemed to be a huge pay day for Walker. He had been a productive and valuable member of the 49ers, but the dollar figures then seemed a bit much given his often times more under-the-radar performances. However, in five seasons with the Titans, he has been a huge part of the passing game. He has averaged 69 receptions, 813 yards, and five touchdowns each season. All three of those numbers easily surpass his career highs with the 49ers (29 receptions in 2010, 344 yards in 2012, 3 touchdowns in 2011 and 2012).
Walker and the Titans are traveling to Santa Clara this weekend to face the 49ers, and Walker was the player Titans media provided to Bay Area media ahead of the game. I don’t have audio from the call yet, but Matt Barrows got a particularly interesting quotation from Walker about his departure from the Bay Area.
"Honestly, Jim Harbaugh was trying to do basically everything in his power to get the deal done to make me stay," Walker said on a conference call Tuesday. "But I don't think the (general manager) had the same picture as Jim Harbaugh at that time. So I realized it was time for me to go somewhere else and show everybody how good I can be at the No. 1 spot, and that's what I've been doing so far."
It is worth noting, the 49ers did not have a ton of cap room in 2013. After they traded away Alex Smith, released David Akers, and traded for Anquan Boldin, they had somewhere between $3 million and $6 million in cap space, depending on your source. That would have been enough to do a deal with Walker, but they knew they would need space cleared for when they eventually extended Colin Kaepernick (a year later).
More importantly for Walker specifically, while his value was considerable, given his status as their second tight end behind Vernon Davis, it’s not surprising they did not extend him. Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time, it did make some sense.