The San Francisco 49ers head into the 2018 season with a strong trio of specialists. Kicker Robbie Gould was money kicking field goals last year. Long snapper Kyle Nelson was rarely mentioned — a good thing for a long snapper — other than getting downfield for a fumble recovery. And then there’s punter Bradley Pinion.
The 49ers surprised a lot of us when they spent a fifth round pick on Pinion in the 2015 NFL Draft, and then proceeded to trade Andy Lee to the Cleveland Browns. Since then, Pinion has developed into a solid punter. However, it is as a punter AND kicker that he has emerged among the best in the league.
Pinion’s first two years in the NFL, he was primarily the punter, but he would alternate with Phil Dawson as the team’s kickoff option. Last year however, he became the team’s exclusive kickoff kicker. In doing so, he was among the league leaders in average kick distance at 71.8 yards. Only 15 of his 79 kickoffs were returned.
Pinion finished tied with Shane Lechler for tenth in net punting yards at 41.3. Other punters handle kickoffs, but none were as good at the combination of punting and kicking skills as Pinion. It earned him a nod in Peter King’s debut column at NBCSports.com as one of 12 people around the league who will emerge as significant figures in 2018.
Football Outsiders has developed their own analytics to measure effectiveness in punt and kickoff coverage. The 49ers ranked 12th in punt coverage and 10th in kickoff coverage. Neither is spectacular, but as the roster improves, one would hope the coverage units would improve.
The question now is whether or not the 49ers should or will extend Pinion. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal, which means he is now eligible for a new contract. Pinion is in line for a decent contract extension, but as a punter it would not break the bank. And given the 49ers current cap situation, if they want to extend him, they would seemingly be able to make this work.
If both sides want to get a deal done, I could see a training camp extension. But will it happen, or will the 49ers move on from the best combo punter/kicker in the game?