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Younger and cheaper: Why the 49ers drafted a kicker and why so early

Don’t hate. The 49ers got the best kicker in the draft when they could

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

One of the more obvious surprises on Day 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft came when the 49ers drafted Michigan kicker Jake Moody in the 3rd round. Obvious because there were plenty of reports that they’d be looking at drafting a kicker to possibly take over the vacancy left by Robbie Gould, a surprise because they drafted a kicker in the third round.

It is the highest a kicker has gone since Roberto Aguayo went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. If you don’t know who he is, or can’t remember, that should tell you how that decision turned out.

So, was Moody a reach? Well, yes and no. We’ll have more info on Moody later today and that ridiculous leg of his, but this is more on the position itself.

First, let’s just answer the Robbie Gould question: yes, he wants to be closer to home, and yes, he’ll probably find a job in training camp. Remember, he’s a free agent and the 49ers, along with 31 other teams, haven’t been champing at the bit to sign him. By comparison, when Phil Dawson left the 49ers, he was snapped up in two days after free agency. Gould has said he’s being picky, but it’s clear he’s entering the twilight of his career.

The 49ers dodged a few bullets with Gould in 2022. The most notable one comes against the Las Vegas Raiders, when Gould sliced a would-be game winning chip shot he normally would make in his sleep. The 49ers wound up winning in overtime, with another Gould field goal that was drilled, but something was amiss. While Gould was still serviceable, it was clear the accuracy was beginning to wane.

How much more damaging would it be if he missed the game winner in the NFC Divisional of 2021? Letting Aaron Rodgers back onto the field for overtime and those highly regarded NFL overtime rules. These scenarios could open up as a possibility now. Not to mention Gould being one of the more higher paid kickers in the league on a team that needs to pinch pennies to sign all those players they developed.

The 49ers traded with the Carolina Panthers for Zane Gonzalez in March, a decent leg, but also one who has some reliability concerns. The good thing for Gonzalez is he was $1.4 million against the 49ers Salary Cap. A massive improvement for Robbie Gould’s $5.5 million cap number in 2022. Gould is good, is he worth $5.5 million? You can decide that one.

But why Gonzalez? Kyle put it pretty well: Probably to have competition for a rookie to avoid being stuck with them, a la the Roberto Aguayo situation. Last thing you want is a kicker that is shanking chip shots (anyone who can remember David Akers in the 2012 season knows exactly what I’m talking about). If Moody struggles, they can go with Gonzalez. Yes, it’s a wasted pick, but better than the alternative.

But if Moody can beat Gonzalez, which may be what the 49ers are banking on, the 49ers not only will have the kicker of the future, but they’ll have a kicker for a much cheaper salary. They can sign Moody to a four-year contract in the neighborhood of around $3.5 million. That’s $3.5 million total. Meaning they get to go younger and cheaper at the position.

It works great: the 49ers put Moody and Gonzalez against each other in training camp, may the best man win. Hopefully, it’s Moody, but if it doesn’t work, they can go to Gonzalez and look another direction next year/sign Gonzalez long-term. Not ideal, but it won’t put them in a bad spot.

Again, if Moody works out, and as we’ll find out later today why he has a good chance to succeed, this is a massive win in both the kicker position and salary cap. The 49ers won’t be paying a kicker $5 million a year, and he’ll be under the age of 30.

So, that brings up the whole 3rd round pick on Moody business. Well, it’s pretty simple: have you seen this kid? He’s the best kicker in the draft. Kyle Shanahan said it best:

There’s probably five or six teams you feel need a kicker. So the debate is, where to go get that guy, because it’s someone you need to get. You look at the history, majority of kickers go in the fourth round. We didn’t have a fourth round pick. That guy was not going to be there in the fifth round.

I’ll double down on Shanahan’s statement and let you know there is no way Moody lasted until the 5th round, when the 49ers picked again. He has that much potential. Call it a reach if you'd like, but it’s not a reach on a wide receiver or a running back. We can at least give them that. If the 49ers wanted the best kicker in the draft class, the 3rd round was the place to do it. By the way, this was late in the 3rd round, and even Shanahan said it felt more like early 4th round.

I guess the question, now that it’s all laid out here, is: What is your alternative? Do you pay Robbie Gould a high salary for what seems to be the beginning of declining production, or do you get the best kicker in this draft class, a chance at being one of the best kickers in the NFL with an insurance policy (Gonzalez) behind him where you ultimately can get younger and cheaper at the position?

If this works, and we don’t know if it will, the 49ers have saved a wad of salary cap money and needed to upgrade the position. And if you still think it’s crazy, think of long snapper Taybor Pepper:

And yes, Punterville loves Kickerville...