As all the amateur general managers peruse the San Francisco 49ers’ roster, ready to trim the fat and craft a so-called perfect roster, one name keeps coming up. That name: Jonathan Goodwin. You might know him for snapping the ball and being the only almost-normal-sized offensive lineman.
Goodwin, 34, is the oldest starter on the 49ers’ offensive line, but he isn’t its longest-tenured member. That would be Joe Staley. Also, Goodwin’s game is decidedly more subtle what you see from maulers like Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis or Alex Boone. As a result, fans don’t have the same kind of attachment to Goodwin that they did to someone like Dashon Goldson.
Throw in the cap savings that would come with releasing Goodwin — $4,350,000, behind only Justin Smith ($8,000,000), Frank Gore ($6,450,000) and Anquan Boldin ($6M, but he’ll probably sign an extension that causes that number to shrink) — and to some the decision is obvious. Release Goodwin, replace him with someone younger and use that money elsewhere. Besides, the rest of the offensive line is so good that they wouldn’t even miss him.
Wait, slow down. Goodwin may not be a comedian like Staley, absurdly humongous like Iupati and Boone, or the nastiest guy on the team like Davis. But Goodwin is smart and beloved in the locker room, and just because the players around him got better doesn’t mean he got worse.
He was quite good in 2012, actually. Since Pro Football Focus is really the only place that rates offensive linemen numerically, here are how the 49ers’ linemen rank compared to their peers:
Staley: 40.6 (first among tackles)
Iupati: 20.7 (fifth among guards, second among left guards)
Goodwin: 11.9 (10th among centers)
Boone: 22.9 (third among guards, second among right guards)
Davis: 22.4 (10th among tackles, third among right tackles)
No center who scored ahead of Goodwin was available this offseason. Dan Koppen, who graded out as the No. 21 center (5.0) last year with Denver, is the only free agent that’s even close. He hasn’t signed with anyone yet. All of the other available free agent centers would be huge downgrades.
In order to replace Goodwin on the roster, the 49ers would need to either promote from within or find a potential starting center in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Since there are no first round centers in this draft and the 49ers wouldn’t spend a pick that high on one anyway, let’s forget the latter option. The 49ers are not in a position to insert a rookie into the middle of the best line in the NFL. There’s a Super Bowl loss to avenge, here.
If the 49ers decided to cut Goodwin (not that there’s much of a chance they will), they’d be choosing between Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney, Al Netter, Kenny Wiggins and Wayne Tribue, with Kilgore first in line. The 49ers traded up to draft Kilgore out of Appalachian State in the fifth round in 2011. He took part in 77 snaps last season, some of those as an extra blocker in the team’s jumbo formation and 45 plays as the 49ers’ center (where he scored a fairly impressive 2.2 for such a small number of snaps, due almost completely to his run-blocking).
Kilgore is currently ranked second on the team’s depth chart at center behind Goodwin, but would the 49ers trust him enough to play all 16 games? Who’d be Kilgore’s backup? Looney spent all of last season on the inactive list and Netter was on the opportunity squad. If you can pick Tribue out of a lineup, you are among the 99.9999th percentile in terms of 49ers knowledge and should probably get outside more.
The subject that seems so much easier to broach … in theory
Some want the 49ers to ask, “Hey Goody, how about a pay cut?” Those people get points for creativity and allegiance to the kind of corporate frigidity the NFL is built upon, but that has no chance of happening.
The precedent has been set — just look at which 49ers have taken pay cuts so far. Mario Manningham missed seven games last year including the playoffs, and may need time to heal after a significant knee injury. Parys Haralson missed the entire 2012 season and was set to earn too much for a player who wouldn’t be starting in 2013. Goodwin played in 1,202 snaps in 2012 and was an above-average center for the entire season. Asking Goodwin to take a pay cut would just offend him, and there’s a long-term benefit in not being a team that’s known for asking veterans to take pay cuts every year, especially ones who do their jobs.
Degree of difficulty
Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman like to run a wider variety of formations than any other offensive coaches in the league. Their playbook is 90,000 pages and 74 lbs, at least that’s what I feel like assuming. Then toss in how Colin Kaepernick takes forever to bark signals at the line, and moves around frenetically before getting the snap (from a distance from center that’s different than a standard shotgun), and Goodwin probably had the most challenging job of any center last season, at least from a mental standpoint.
One thing I’ll allow: Goodwin certainly had a physical advantage blocking between Iupati and Boone. Kilgore would be in a good spot there, but there would be a steep learning curve in jumping from 45 plays at center to over 1,000.
Making the team, the team, the team better
One thing we haven’t talked about is whether or not cutting Goodwin would help the 49ers win more games. Consider how important continuity is among a group of linemen. Would it be worth it to muck around with that in order to get an extra free agent? Protecting the team’s clear strength would seem to be an important goal in a year where they’re contending for a championship, far more critical than adding Charles Woodson, John Abraham, Nnamdi Asomugha or some other over-30 guy who’ll probably get hurt by Week 6.
Plus, the o-line’s durability was unbelievable last season. Phenomenal. Also, probably unsustainable. Leonard Davis, the largest person I’ve ever seen in person besides that time my friend and I saw a WWE show at The Cow Palace 10 years ago, wasn’t all that great last season. Kilgore is currently listed as Iupati’s backup. Looney, Netter, Wiggins and/or Tribue could contribute next year, but they probably won’t be at the top of their position like each of the five current starters.
Just look at Harbaugh’s history, at least going back to Stanford. It all starts with line play on both sides, then you figure everything else out. The 49ers have their offensive line figured out, and a savings of $4 million isn’t worth getting rid of a valuable player they signed at this rate for a reason two years ago.