When the San Francisco 49ers traded for Washington left tackle Trent Williams at the 2020 NFL Draft, everyone knew what it meant.
For the first time since 2007, Joe Staley would not be a part of the San Francisco 49ers roster.
San Francisco took the 6’5, 295-pound lineman 28th in the 2007 NFL Draft, one of the best picks in franchise history. Staley would develop into a mainstay on the 49ers’ line and earned several accolades throughout his career.
The 35-year-old was named to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, he was an All-Pro three times and made it to six Pro Bowls. During his career, he helped the Niners make two Super Bowls, and is lauded as an incredible locker room leader.
Staley won’t get a chance to chase after the elusive Lombardi Trophy after announcing his retirement due to a health concerns with his neck.
The praise from teammates and coaches, both present and past has been non-stop since the news broke that Staley was hanging up the cleats.
“One of the best players in NFL history,” former coach Jim Harbaugh said during an interview with 95.7 The Game. “Congratulations to him and everything he’s accomplished.”
Staley met with the media and answered questions about his career and what the future holds for the soon-to-be Hall of Famer:
Is this a sad day? Is this a happy day? How do you look at this day that you knew eventually would come?
“It’s a happy and sad day. Very mixed emotions. My statement kind of said everything that I wanted to say without getting really personal with every single person that affected my whole entire career. But, it was very mixed emotions throughout this whole entire thing because obviously I did not want to quit playing football. I still have a huge love for it. It’s going to be a weird transition going into retirement because it wasn’t a thing where I was like, ‘Alright this is going to be my last year and I’m going to be done,’ but it was just the right decision for me. I think because of that it was really hard for me. I think it’ll probably be hard going forward, but it was the right decision for me and it was the right decision for my family. It’s what needed to happen, but yeah tough because football is what I know and what I loved since I was a little kid and to not have that anymore, I think right now since it’s the offseason it’s easier because no one’s playing football, but once it gets closer to the season and it’s like, ‘Alright well I should be going to training camp right now. I should be getting ready for the football season.’ I think that’s when it will hit me a little harder.”
You mentioned a neck condition in your letter. When did you become aware of that and did it impact you during the season? What was the timeline on all of that?
“Last year should have been the pinnacle of my career. We had an absolutely unbelievable team from the culture to the coaching staff, front office, the players that were around. And it was like that the whole entire year. But, for me personally, it was really, really difficult because of the injuries. I had the broken leg which was kind of a weird rehab for that, it wasn’t very straightforward, I had a lot of complications coming back from that. I think they were pretty documented and then I came back and broke the finger, had to have surgery on that and that was just a broken. While that happened, I had a back thing and then I’ve had neck stuff that’s been going on for a little bit and it just kind of got worse and worse as the season went on. The last half of the year, not really the last half the year, it was kind of like the last two or three games it started getting progressively worse and then in the playoffs it was really bad, and then kind of culminated with the Super Bowl being the worst. Then, I got a lot of doctor opinions and went through that whole process after the season was done and weighed a lot of different decisions, opinions and options and all that stuff and just took it all in. And I made the decision that for me, family and what my life looks like going forward it was the right time I guess, if there is a right time to step away.”
I want to know, I know you’re not honestly big in determining legacies and things like that, but how would you like people to remember you both on and off the field as a player?
“First, let me just say that I was absolutely overwhelmed and blown away by the response from everybody. I mean, with the Niners and all the work they did on their end to do little tribute videos and put together all that stuff, that meant so much to me. You know, I’m a lineman and it’s our job to not be noticed and it’s our job to just do our job and do the grunt work. It was really cool for them to do all that stuff. Playing for that franchise meant a ton to me. It really meant a lot for them to show a lot of appreciation. I actually forgot what the question was.”
How would you want to be remembered?
“Things that are important to me is stuff that I can tell my kids and hang my hat on, like life lessons. Like how you approached the day-in, day-out stuff. I don’t want to be remembered for being a guy with a couple plays here and there. I just want to be remembered as a guy that gave his all every single day. People in the locker room can say that this guy was just as consistent on a day like June 14th as he was in a playoff game. The guy treated every single moment the exact same and I think that is something that I always tried to strive for was just to be a consistent performer and try to take my job as serious as I could every single day. I think that’s what would be important to me, but as far as what legacy is and all that stuff and how I want to be remembered, I would hope they would respect the work that I’ve put in and know that I gave it my all and did everything I could to try to better the team and try to do everything I could to help the team win. But, as far as what I want to be remembered as, I don’t really have any.”
I was going to ask you about your favorite plays and about the Saints block and all that, but tell me where you see yourself in about five years or so? What’s the Joe Staley plan of attack here and do you have to have any further surgeries on yourself?
“I mean, I’m sure down the road, but right now there’s nothing imminent at all. I’ll take that whenever that stuff presents itself. I think that’s pretty common as far as any retired NFL player. They put a lot of stuff off until after they’re done with the game of football and then they kind of address stuff as it goes. What it looks like five years from now is pretty much the same I’ve been my whole life. Whatever I’m going to be doing, I’m going to be working really hard at it. Hopefully I’ll be a lot lighter, in a lot better shape, be healthier and just be the best family man, best dad I can be. Just working incredibly hard at whatever it is. As far as what I want to do when the game’s done, I want to be involved in football in some capacity. I’ve had preliminary discussions with the Niners of doing something with them. I don’t really know what that’s going to entail, but I’m very interested in all that stuff. I’ve had people in the media reach out and to see what my interest is in doing that stuff. I’ve had talks with my agent about doing training for offensive line stuff and helping him out. I don’t have a definitive plan, I’m just kind of going through this whole thing, I’m really going to take one year to just enjoy trying to be healthy and being around the house as much as I can and then I’m sure I’ll go stir crazy around here and need to have something to do.”
After the season, did you consult with doctors and can you talk about when you knew in your heart or maybe officially knew that you were going to retire?
“After the season was done I went and saw this doctor, actually not just a doctor, I saw a bunch of different doctors. I was getting a lot of different opinions on what was going on and the risks going forward and all that stuff. I weighed all that and then I was really in contact with the Niners. I was in contact with them the whole entire time. They knew that this was something that I was weighing after the season was done and tried to be as open and honest as I could during the whole entire time because it was really important for me to make sure whatever the decision was that I was going to make that I wasn’t screwing them over, so to say. I knew that the Draft was basically the deadline for that for me and also for them because I wanted them to know 100-percent what I was going to do by then. I kind of made the decision that it was leaning towards that way probably about a month ago, but I still wanted to give myself more time to see if conditions improved, if things got better, if my mind changed. And it just didn’t so I went to [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and [general manager] John [Lynch] and talked to them the week of the Draft and kind of gave them my 100-percent that this was the final answer. And it was really important to me that they were able to have a plan in place. I couldn’t be more excited for [T] Trent [Williams] to be up with the Niners now. Just knowing that a player of his ability is going to be able to take over that left side and hopefully not miss a beat at all. He’s a tremendous player. I’m really excited that everything kind of worked out on all ends. I’m happy with the decision I made for me and my family, happy for the decision the Niners made for the franchise and I can’t wait to watch what they do this upcoming year.”
I do want to ask you about particular moments and plays and how you reflect on. I don’t know if that block you made on former 49ers QB Alex Smith’s run in the Saints playoff game is your favorite play, but is it your favorite play first of all, how do you reflect on it and then also what did that spike in Seattle Week 17 mean for you individually?
“Yeah. I think favorite play, like, that one gets the most play because it was probably the most memorable as far as the moment, it being our first playoff game we had a long time. The way the game went. But, really that was just a play of me running and almost missing the block and kind of tripping a dude. My favorite plays are like the plays that no one would ever recognize. You know, they were like me and [Seattle Seahawks G] Mike Iupati pulled up a three-technique and took them off like seven yards off the ball and dumped them on the ground. Plays like that or when you’re in a two-minute drill and you have a seven-step drop on the pass protection and you’re going against a really great player like [Chicago Bears LB] Khalil Mack and holding up and being able to, you know, give the quarterback time in the pocket. Those are my favorite plays because I think that being an offensive lineman is about really doing your job in an exceptionally high level. But, yeah, that’s a very memorable play and I think just because of the moment, that’s something that will always stick out in my mind. Coming around the corner and leading Alex to that touchdown. Then, what was the next question?”
The celebration spike you had in Seattle, Week 17.
“I don’t know. I remember like vividly in my mind being in my head in that moment, being like, ‘Holy shit, this is happening.’ It was like, ‘We’re going to beat the Seahawks right now in a huge game in Seattle on Sunday Night Football, this is happening.’ I remember just being like, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole career for this spike’ and I just put everything I had, and also at the last second I was like, ‘Don’t fall over.’ So, talk about most memorable moments in my life, that spike meant a ton to me personally just because of all the heartache that we had in Seattle throughout the years. Yeah, so many different memories of football that I can kind of talk about for hours on end, but those are definitely some of them.”
Along the same lines, I just wanted to rewind a bit further to maybe your high school or college career now that you’ve had a chance to look at the whole entirety of work. I’m curious if you have any really fond memories of your days as a tight end scoring some touchdowns, catching the ball?
“I scored one and it was a wasted opportunity for a celebration. Freshman year, caught a fade route. It’s funny how you remember that in great detail, the touchdown that you had your freshman year of college, but as far as memories go in the NFL, in the actual games that matter, they kind of all blur together. In college it was fun playing tight end because all I knew though at the time, I would never have made a career out of myself in the NFL if I had not switch positions. So, I’m very thankful for what [Notre Dame head coach] Brian Kelly and [former Notre Dame director of strength and conditioning] Paul Longo, [Notre Dame assistant coach] Jeff Quinn. All those coaches I had at Central Michigan at the time that switched positions with me to teach me basically the basics of offensive line play because I was a pretty pedestrian tight end when I was there.”
Former LB Patrick Willis talked a little earlier today. He was reminiscing about your 2007 draft class. I mean, there was former S Dashon Goldson, there is former CB Tarell Brown. Can you go back to that and what it was like that rookie year with that group of guys?
“Yeah, it was unbelievable. I don’t think we even realized how special it was when we came in together. We didn’t really know, we all kind of came into the NFL that year and we all went through the whole entire experience together. We were just like, ‘Alright, this is what the NFL is and we don’t really understand who is good and who’s not good. We’re just going to try to do our best.’ We ended up having a lot, a lot of special players on that team that were a huge catalyst for us being so good in the first Super Bowl run that we had with [former 49ers head coach and current Michigan head coach Jim] Harbaugh. Patrick, I just remember he was the first player that I met coming off the plane in San Francisco and almost just being in awe because I, as just a huge football fan, knew all about him, and I’m a small school kid coming from Central Michigan, so I just think it’s cool to be in the presence of someone like that and a guy like him to go through my career with, a guy that really showed every single day what it was to be a pro. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about all those guys. We all still keep in contact and it is a great group of dudes to go through.”
One of the things that TE George Kittle and T Mike McGlinchey talked about was how you knew, as a leader, when to be serious and when to be funny. Where did you learn that from and how were you able to instill that in some of the younger guys?
“I don’t know, I don’t remember like learning that. I think it was almost like a stress mechanism, I think I used to deal with stress with just trying to make light of what I was feeling a lot of stress about. Coming into the NFL, it’s like, I was super serious. For anybody who was there my rookie year, I was incredibly serious all the time. They actually called me G.I. Joe my rookie year. I just couldn’t deal with the stress that I was feeling every single day to perform and at the highest level and put a lot of stress on myself to be perfect at everything I did, practice field, meeting rooms, all that stuff. I was just like, ‘This is not me, this is not who I am.’ I’ve always been this kind of personality when I was younger and then once I got kind of a little more comfortable and kind of understood and understand what I’m doing around here, then I think my personality kind of came out. I was always able to be able to just flip the switch on and off. I understood when there was a time to lock in and there’s business to be had, there’s technique to learn and schemes to learn in the classroom. There was time to just have fun or I’m going to do some runs and might as well talk some trash and laugh while you’re doing it and make it a competition and try to push guys that way. That’s always kind of been my mechanism of dealing with stress is to try to be loose in that way. It’s served me well and I think it’s not for everybody. Guys don’t all respond like that, but I think certain personalities, like you said, George or Mike, two guys that come to mind that are like, you know, they know when to have fun and they know when to turn it on.”
You have kind of a self-deprecating spirit about you sometimes. I’m wondering what it was like—?
“I take myself very serious.”
I wonder what it was like for you when you first met Mike McGlinchey when he came in as a rookie knowing that he had sort of been watching you for a while and I guess idolized you for a couple of years and what that was like for you?
“Yeah, I mean I expected that because of knowing Mike and the coaching staff that he had at Notre Dame and I just knew. They’d told me, he was like, ‘Dude, this kid is obsessed with you. You’ve got to make sure that you, you’re his hero.’ No, I’m just joking. It was cool. It was very instant with Mike, just the connection. The kid is for real like a little brother to me. It was just like very similar personalities, very similar styles in the way we kind of view football, the way we worked. It was very easy. It’s cool, I never really even understand all that stuff. I didn’t learn about this stuff. I remember I went to his house, one of the first times I went to his house and he had a high school jersey of his that he has framed in his little man cave area and it was number 74. So, I was just giving him crap, not even understanding, not even knowing. I was like, ‘Oh, look at that. You’ve got your hero in the house now. You wore my jersey number when you were in high school.’ Like joking around. He was like, ‘Yeah, I was nervous for you to see that.’ I was like, ‘Oh wait, you’re serious.’ I really did. He was like, ‘Yeah.’ So, I didn’t understand all that stuff, I didn’t know all that stuff. It’s obviously, as you get older in the league, you understand that you’ve been around in the NFL and there’s not a lot of guys in the NFL that would choose an offensive lineman to be their favorite player, but Mike is one of them because Mike’s a weird guy.”
When you look at Mike being a weird guy and George Kittle, you’ve embodied this kind of, that kind of mentality where you’ve been able to kind of go through the highs and lows of some really bad teams, great teams, some really, really, really bad teams and now good teams again. Do you think that that kind of that spirit, that McGlinchey and Kittle have which is similar to yours kind of helps you ride that roller coaster of emotions through an NFL career?
“Yeah, I would agree with that, I think. You’ve got to understand at the end of the day, you play in the NFL and we play football. As much as we all think it’s the most serious thing in the world, it’s a game and it’s a fun game that we’re privileged to play for a lot of people that enjoy what we do and bring entertainment to people. At the end of the day, it’s the entertainment business and you’ve got to have fun with what you’re doing. You can take things very serious while you’re doing that, but you’re also enjoying it. Enjoying what you do, bringing in a spirit of laughter and you can bring all that to the table every single day when you come to work. I think kind of approaching it like that, not to make light of the seasons that are bad, but there are a lot of different factors that go into what makes a team, makes a season really, really good. As much as certain players like to think that it’s them that does it, it’s not. It’s 100-percent the collection of everything that comes together. Also, the same respect for what makes a team and the season really, really, really bad. It’s a collection of everything that kind of comes together to go in the wrong direction. I think what was really huge for me was just understanding that I’m going to enjoy what I’m going to do every single day, I’m going to give everything I have to being the absolute best player that I can be, I’m going to try to give everything I have to making others around me the best players they can be, but you can’t really control, as much as you want to, you can’t really control the 100-percent output of what a huge team sport like football does.”
I want to ask you about 2017. The year obviously wasn’t going well, but you guys won that game against the Giants and I remember you being just so extremely happy about that game and now in retrospect it almost seemed like a little bit of foreshadowing, like to me it seemed like a start of a turnaround. I was wondering if you look at that year and the attitude that you guys were able to maintain in the locker room of optimism. Do you think that that did carry over to the run that we saw this past year?
“One-hundred percent. You know, I think that was what was so exciting about that year. When I was thinking about that 2017 year, we did not have results at all like we all wanted and expected. I think everybody around us, outside media, everything that was talked about was ‘Oh this is the same Niners,’ but we did not feel that way at all in the locker room. What was really, really cool about that year was that guys maybe in the past and past teams that I had been on would have listened to that stuff. When it got to the midway point of the season we would have been like, ‘Alright let’s just try to get through this season and go into next year,’ and it was not that way at all. I think that was 100-percent from the top leadership that we had with John and Kyle and everybody that’s a of the front office and coaching staff there and then the veteran leaders that we had. Everybody was still giving everything they had during practice. There was no division through the media. Guys weren’t pointing fingers publicly or privately. It was a really cool team to be a part of. Going through an 0-8 season or 0-9, I would think we were going into our first game. To still see that, you know, I’ve been on teams that you are 5-3 and you’re fighting and all this different kind of stuff, but we had our 0-9 season and guys are still keeping together and pulling together. I just knew what it was building a special foundation for what was to come.”
I was just going to ask you about former San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore because he had a nice little tweet to you the other day. What was that relationship like for you? What does that mean to you, those different things that happen in football that really just don’t happen anywhere else?
“Yeah. I think he knows now because I communicated this with him, but I don’t think at the moment he understood how much of an impact he had on my football career. Frank was a guy that I watched. I was a huge sports fan growing up and he was a guy that I watched and not idolized, but he was a superstar. So, I came in the NFL and he had just got done rushing for 1,600 yards and he was a guy that was the leader of the team and he was a San Francisco 49er. To watch him work and the way that he approached every single day was special for me as a rookie just being like ‘This is what it takes to be a stud in the NFL.’ It was just special to be able to block for him for so long. You guys all know Frank. He’s quiet. He doesn’t do a lot of stuff. He doesn’t pump himself up. He’s just a guy that you want to play for and a guy that you respect because of what he does and what he brings to the game of football. He’s a great ambassador for the game. I could just go on and on about Frank. It was really special for me to play for him. He reached out over this weekend and it was a special conversation just to be able to talk with him. He shared some nice words and stuff like that. He’ll be a lifelong friend and someone I was very fortunate enough to cross paths with for a long time and have a lot of special moments with.”
You said after the Super Bowl you didn’t care about the paychecks and the personal accolades and that all you really wanted to do was hoist that trophy and you didn’t get to do that. I’m curious how you reflect on your career just given the fact that you weren’t able to win a Super Bowl? Also, where did that set of ideals come from? Was there a mentor or somebody that sort of instilled that to you or is that something that you just gradually had for yourself as your career progressed?
“Probably my parents. It was being raised around them. It’s not about accolades. It’s not about doing stuff to get noticed. Whatever you’re doing, you’re trying to give your best at. You’re trying to win and trying to be the best that you can be at it. A Super Bowl is the best thing you can do as a professional athlete, is to win a Super Bowl. Yeah it sucks. It really does. I mean, it sucks to not be able to win that. I’ve watched since I was five years old, watching Super Bowls, and just the joy that it brings to players and being able to hoist that trophy up in the air. I’m just kind of reflecting on the journey that it took to get there and how meaningful that would have been for me and everybody on the football team. There are so many different people that deserve that over the years, but it wasn’t in the cards. I gave everything I had to the game of football. I definitely don’t leave my head hung in that respect. I think I did everything I could do, but it just didn’t happen for whatever reasons. Just didn’t happen for me, didn’t happen for us. That’s frustrating but it’s not something that will torment me for the rest of my life.”
Kyle basically said that you’d be welcomed back in any capacity you want, if that’s something you’d like. Have you given any consideration to being around the team or potentially going into coaching?
“Yeah, I mean, I’d love to be the head coach. If Kyle said any capacity, that’s just where my mind is at right now. That’s a joke so please don’t print that. No, I haven’t, right now, thought about what that capacity would be. This is all still very, very fresh and my mind right now as it’s going forward is to take some time and enjoy my family and get used to not being a football player anymore and moving on from that. I still have a huge love for the game of football obviously and I think I can definitely serve in some capacity because I have a lot of knowledge and I feel like I’m a pretty good teacher. I would love to get into coaching possibly down the road, but if not that, maybe some kind of consulting maybe. I definitely won’t be a stranger around here or nothing like that.”
You were recently named to the NFL All-Decade Team. When you found that out and you reflect on the decade of the 2010s, what does that mean to you?
“I think I just got done giving a big monologue about how I don’t care about accolades, but I think that was one thing that I was pretty proud of that. I think that just kind of encompasses your whole entire career. To be looked at by my peers and different people, you know, writers and I’m not even sure who 100-percent votes on that stuff, but whoever does, to be looked at in that much respect for what I’ve done over my career it meant a lot. I think it’s a big honor. So, I definitely was very grateful to be named to that team and in the position to be on that team. Yeah, it’s funny how I gave that exact opposite answer to that question that I gave to that basically same one earlier.”
Staley could run like a gazelle, as evidenced by one his most memorable career highlights, blocking down field for then QB Alex Smith during the 2011 playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
Goodbye, Joe! The Faithful will always love and what appreciate everything your brought to the franchise over the past 13 seasons.
Enjoy retirement, big man!