Mon Jan 27 12:13pm ET
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
Players: Jimmy Garoppolo
San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley speaks during a news conference at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers, left, holds up her phone next to offensive tackle Joe Staley, center right, as they depart for Miami from Mineta San Jose International Airport in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley smiles during practice at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) When the San Francisco 49ers were mired in a two-win season back in 2016 and headed to a third straight offseason with a coaching change, Joe Staley wondered if it was still worth the sacrifices needed to play offensive line in such a grueling sport.
He had gone from three straight trips to the NFC title game to a three-year stretch that featured only 15 wins and three coaching changes.
That's when coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch arrived and Staley's outlook changed
''I'd be lying to you if I said, 'No, I always believed,''' Staley said. ''But there were some dark years here in the franchise, it's been well written about and reported on. But once I met Kyle and John and the vision they had for the franchise, I was pretty confident we were going to get there. I was just happy I was still feeling the way I felt, still had years left to play, was going to be able to see this through.''
The turnaround was far from sudden as the Niners lost their first nine games under the new regime in 2017 and then started 1-7 the next year, winning a combined 10 games in two seasons.
But Staley never lost his faith, signing a $28 million, two-year extension this offseason that keeps him under contract through 2021. That patience has been rewarded with his second trip to the Super Bowl.
''It really played out exactly like they spelled it out in 2017, so once they were here, I knew it was a special, special group,'' Staley said. ''Kyle's a special coach and the staff that he's brought here has been unbelievable. Top to bottom it's a special team.''
The feeling between coach and player is mutual, with Shanahan saying he's grateful for the praise from Staley. Shanahan also said he understood the frustration Staley felt with losing but never saw any on-field reasons why he should step away.
''I thought he looked as good when we got here as he ever had and I think he looks even better now,'' Shanahan said. ''That always surprised me, but I think Joe really loves football and I don't think he wasn't having that much fun. It's never fun when you aren't winning and that's what was hard for me. I thought he did buy in, and to start out 0-9 and watch his frustration with that. He kept doing it the right way.''
The 35-year-old Staley, a first-round pick in 2007, has been a big part of the turnaround as he finishes up his 13th season in San Francisco that has included six coaches and multiple roster overhauls.
Through it all the constant has been Staley, the only player on the active roster left from the team that went to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season under Jim Harbaugh.
''He's seen the ups and downs,'' teammate Mike McGlinchey said. ''He's been to one before with this organization and there were some dark years that followed that and the dark years started happening when he was in the latter end of his career which is really hard on a player. But he stuck with it and we're starting to reap the rewards. I'm super excited for him to be able to get this opportunity and hopefully we can win it for him.''
Despite being plagued by injuries all season after missing six games with a broken leg suffered in Week 2 and then three more after breaking his finger in his first game back in November, Staley is still performing at an elite level.
He's a key part of a dominant line that has powered a ground game that has rushed for 471 yards in two playoff games and has protected Jimmy Garoppolo well all season.
''He's returned to vintage Joe Staley,'' McGlinchey said. ''That's been really helpful to this football team.''
Staley has allowed pressure on just 2.8% of his pass blocks, according to Pro Football Focus, ranking second among all tackles this season to Baltimore All-Pro Ronnie Stanley.
But his impact goes far beyond just blocking as he is one of the leaders of the team.
''It's huge to have him, especially just big moments, games like this,'' Garoppolo said. ''We've had them throughout the entire end of the season, it feels like, these big games. But, just having a guy like that who could calm everything down, put everything in perspective, things like that. Joe's done phenomenal on the field, and the things he does off the field go very unnoticed, but it carries us a long way.''
Baltimore Ravens defensive end Matthew Judon is a candidate to receive the team's franchise tag and could also be traded, according to league sources. The Ravens would like to bring Judon back in 2020, but they are also likely to listen to trade offers if another team shows interest. The Niners dealt a second-round pick to the Chiefs last year for defensive end Dee Ford, who then signed a five-year deal worth up to $87.5 million last March. The Chiefs also traded first- and third-round picks to the Seahawks last April for defensive end Frank Clark, who then signed a five-year, $105.5 million deal. Judon has emerged as a high-end pass rusher with at least seven sacks in each of the last three years. The 27-year-old had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019 and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle posted three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on four targets for the AFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Pittsburgh Steelers DE T.J. Watt posted an 82-yard fumble return for touchdown in the fourth quarter for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews ended up with a game-high nine receptions for an AFC-best 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. registered two grabs for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter, for the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams ended up with a team-high six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper finished with three grabs for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins completed 13-of-22 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26
New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas hauled in five receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown with a team-high eight targets at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell had a solo tackle, a sack and a quarterback hit in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26, winning the Defensive Most Valuable Player award.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson completed 16-of-23 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, winning Offensive Most Valuable Player. He also ran twice for six yards in the 38-33 win.
Houston Texans impending free-agent TE Darren Fells is a player the Texans will try to re-sign this offseason, but he probably will receive interest from multiple teams in free agency.
Houston Texans impending free-agent QB AJ McCarron is a candidate to be re-signed this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop.
New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), who is six weeks removed from groin/abdominal surgery, said he is jogging "a little bit" and is on track to take part in "spring football." Mosley has also started a vegan diet after playing in just two games last season because of his injury in his first year in New York. The 27-year-old should be ready for a full training camp heading into the 2020 season, and he should give Gang Green a steadying presence in the middle of the field next season. Mosley recorded 100-plus tackles in four of his five seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Jets in free agency last offseason.
Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who did not play at all in 2019, plans to play in 2020 after intentionally taking the season off to rest his body and mind. Berry was cut by the Chiefs in 2018 and has only played in three games since 2016 due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The former first-round pick in 2010 has 14 career interceptions and five touchdowns and could provide a team with a veteran presence in the secondary in 2020. However, it remains to be seen if any team will take a chance on the veteran moving forward. Berry is unlikely to be an asset in IDP leagues if he gets picked up by a team.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will become a free agent in March, said he is still waiting to decide if he will play a 20th season in the NFL. "Then, I'll kind of lay low for a little bit, get away and then assess. I kind of have a process in mind. And I'll give it a month or so," Brees said. If the 41-year-old does decide to return, it'll be for the Saints. General manager Mickey Loomis also said that the team would welcome him back if he decides to keep playing. Brees' arm strength is starting to deteriorate, but he still put up great numbers when he came back from a fractured thumb last season, and he should remain in play as a QB1 if he returns for the 2020 season.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hernia) underwent sports hernia surgery recently to fix a lingering groin injury that he suffered during the season, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. The 25-year-old aggravated the injury in the Divisional loss to the Chiefs. Fuller missed five games with a chronic hamstring injury in 2019, and the Texans were 8-3 with him and 2-3 without him. He has 94 catches for 1,452 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 22 regular season games with quarterback Deshaun Watson, yet Fuller continues to struggle to stay on the field with regularity. Fuller is an excellent deep threat but is a frustrating player to own as a boom-or-bust WR3. He should be fully recovered in time for training camp this summer.
Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent DE Robert Quinn likely will not return to the Dallas Cowboys next season, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Todd Archer.
New York Jets LB C.J. Mosley (groin) said he has been able to start jogging and is expected to participate in at least some of the offseason workouts.