Joe Staley wasn’t planning for the 2019 season to be his last in the NFL. However, a neck injury that progressively worsened late last season is one of the biggest reasons Staley has had to walk away from the game he still loves.
“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,” Staley said in quotes distributed by the team.
“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.”
A fractured fibula and corresponding back issues forced Staley to miss six games early last season. When he returned to the lineup, he immediately sustained a broken finger that required surgery and three more missed games. Then the neck issues began to take their toll as it worsened all the way through the end of the season.
Once the season was done, Staley knew that retirement was on the table. He was evaluated by multiple doctors and tried to see if his injuries would improve before giving the 49ers a final decision on his status for 2020.
“I saw a bunch of different doctors,” Staley said. “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.”
Staley’s decision to step away when he did gave the 49ers a clear runway to make a trade to acquire Trent Williams from Washington last weekend. And while he knows when fall comes he’ll be missing the game, he knows this was the right decision to make.
“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,” Staley said.