SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- One of the most beloved San Francisco 49ers in recent memory is walking away from the NFL. Longtime Niners left tackle Joe Staley announced his retirement Saturday, noting injury concerns during San Francisco's Super Bowl run last season.
"Last season was a dream to be a part of, having the opportunity to chase a Championship. But, it was by far the most difficult on me and my family," Staley wrote in his retirement letter. "My body was breaking down with a variety of injuries and a deteriorating neck condition, and the constant discomfort affected every aspect of my life."
It's been a hell of a ride. Thank you pic.twitter.com/V2VB2xKDzp— Joe Staley (@jstaley74) April 25, 2020
Staley, 35, dealt with a broken fibula, broken finger and hand injury last season and has struggled with a neck condition after the season. After mulling retirement for most of the offseason, Staley came to a decision earlier this week, informing Niners coach Kyle Shanahan of his decision in an effort to allow the 49ers to replace him.
On Saturday, the Niners traded a 2020 fifth-round draft choice and a 2021 third-round choice to the Washington Redskins for left tackle Trent Williams. Williams, 31, will step in for Staley at left tackle with deep knowledge of coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. Shanahan served as offensive coordinator in Washington when Williams was selected No. 4 overall in the 2010 NFL draft.
Welcoming Williams into the fold figures to be much easier than saying goodbye to Staley.
After Saturday's draft was complete, Niners general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan began their final media availability of the weekend by paying their tribute to Staley. Shanahan even went so far as to put up a photo of Staley as his background during the video conference call.
"I was with Joe three years," Shanahan said. "He's as good of a player and warrior and person as any player I have ever been around. I love the guy. It was really hard on us when we had to realize that he wasn't going to play this year.
"But talking to the man, knowing the person, knowing his family, he is no doubt making the right decision of what's best for his health and the future. It was really hard for us to hear with how good of a player he was and still is. It's the best thing for him, and I'm really happy for him and happy for the career that he had."
It's a career that made Staley a fan favorite in San Francisco. The team used the 28th pick on him in the 2007 NFL draft, and Staley made six Pro Bowls, earned three second-team All Pro nods and was on the NFL's 2010s All-Decade team. He started all 181 regular-season games in which he appeared over his career.
On Saturday, Lynch and Shanahan called Staley a vital part of their rebuilding efforts after taking over in 2017. Their arrival also coincided with Staley's football resurgence. After a few years of losing under the likes of Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, Staley nearly retired then but has often spoken of how Shanahan's arrival gave him real hope that it would all turn around.
That's why during the 49ers' run to Super Bowl LIV, teammates and coaches singled out Staley as the guy they were most happy for.
"If there's a player you wish you could have pulled the whole thing off for, it would have been Joe," Lynch said.
While the Niners' return to the Super Bowl alleviated a lot of Staley's pain, the 2019 season was difficult on his body. He played just seven regular-season games as he suffered a broken fibula in Week 2, a broken finger in Week 10 and a hand injury requiring eight stitches in Super Bowl.
During the season, Staley sounded like he would continue playing. However, as the injuries mounted, his tone changed and, after the disappointing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, Staley was more uncertain than ever. In his retirement letter released Saturday, Staley revealed he was also dealing with a "deteriorating neck condition" that was causing him "constant discomfort."
As recently as Monday, Lynch had publicly expressed optimism that Staley would be returning without declaring definitively that it was happening. Soon after, Staley informed Shanahan that he planned to retire.
Ultimately, it was his desire to be healthy and support his family that drove Staley to his decision.
"I have two young daughters, Grace and Audrey," Staley wrote. "They are my world. To choose to play another season when my body says it's done and risk my future with them and ability to be the father I want to be would be selfish and reckless. I want my daughters to know that I will always choose them, no matter what."
Staley was slated to count $11.5 million against the 2020 salary cap with a cap charge of $12.5 million remaining on his deal for 2021. His retirement will leave the Niners with $1 million in dead money, allowing them to save $10.5 million on the cap.
At some point after football returns and things get back closer to normal, Lynch and Shanahan said the 49ers intend to honor Staley with more than a few nice words.
"For the last 13 years, Joe Staley conducted himself in a manner that epitomizes the 49ers way and set a tremendous example for his teammates and our community," 49ers CEO Jed York said in a statement. "A consummate professional, one of the best players in the game and a great human being, Joe has left an indelible mark on this franchise and everyone he has come into contact with throughout his career. His passion, sense of humor and heart are just a few of the many traits that allowed him not only to be a team leader but also an ambassador for our game and the Bay Area."