49ers mailbag: How much longer for Joe Staley?

What‘s a reasonable amount of time to expect Joe Staley to continue to be the starting LT?

ANSW: Staley will be 34 when the new season begins. He‘s had some knee and shoulder issues in the past but made a decision — what turned out to be a really smart decision — early in his career to play the position at around 300 pounds and to trade mass for quickness. That‘s probably minimized wear and tear and added to his longevity. Amazingly for a left tackle, he‘s started 158 of a possible 176 games. As the 2017 season wound to a close, Staley spoke about getting a second wind from the young, energetic 49ers and coaching staff. If the 49ers continue to be ascendant, and as long as he avoids a major injury, it‘s not farfetched that he could play two or three more years. The Rams‘ Andrew Whitworth, for example, just finished his 12th season at age 36. My sense is that Staley will be like Justin Smith. Once he senses that his skills are diminishing, he’ll step away. At the end of the 2017 season, those skills were still very sharp.

1st pick of the draft (for the 49ers)?

ANSW: The more I think about it, the more I wonder about an offensive tackle with the 49ers‘ first pick. They may be in need of two starters (see question above; Trent Brown will be going into his contract year) in a couple of seasons and cornerstone left tackles are hard to come by outside of the first round of the draft. There will be a few — Orlando Brown, Connor Williams, Mike McGlinchey — within striking distance for them this year. I guess the question will be: Can any of them play guard until the 49ers have a true need at tackle?

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hey Matt! Love your work. Random offseason question. Any word on Joe Williams and McNichols and how they looked in practice the last few months of the season? Thanks! Ram in San Jose

ANSW: Well, Williams didn‘t practice because he was on injured reserve. He told me last week that he had only recently fully recovered from the ankle injury that bothered him in the run-up to the 2017 season that landed him on IR. He‘s very much part of the upcoming offseason competition at running back. As for McNichols, the 49ers liked him enough to promote him from the practice squad in late November. He never got a carry, but he‘ll likely be part of the mix when practices resume in the spring.

What is the plan next year for Jimmie ward? After next year?

ANSW: The plan seems to be to let Ward play out the 2018 season on his current contract and at his current position. If he gets hurt again, the 49ers have other options at that position and probably would move on in 2019.

Isaiah Crowell was with Shanny in CLE. Will SF purse him or is the upcoming rookie RB class too deep to invest money in FA?

ANSW: Also a pending free agent: Alfred Morris, who averaged 4.8 yards a carry for Dallas last season. I think Carlos Hyde is better than both of those guys, but the point is the 49ers — and every other team in need of a running back — have options. And then there‘s the abundant rookie class you mentioned. All of which is to say, it‘s hard to see the 49ers being aggressive in the free-agent running back market.

Are you surprised that Tom Ratham has not jumped back into coaching so far?

ANSW: Yes. It’s hard to think of a better running backs coach than Tom Rathman, who has coached in a number of different offenses (including one that didn‘t even use a fullback). I spoke to him recently. He has some irons in the fire, is waiting for coaching carousel to settle.

What‘s going to happen with Arik Armstead? He seems to be out of position and not in any future plans.

ANSW: The 49ers have between now and May 3 to pick up his fifth-year option. If they do not do so, that‘s a hint he‘s not in their future plans, but certainly not a lock. They‘ll see how he fares in 2018 and proceed from there.

What are your thoughts about your fellow UVA alum, Eli Harold, and his future in the D? He‘s still very young (23). Just don‘t notice him a lot out there during games.

ANSW: Wahoowa. As much as I‘d like to, I can‘t dispute your observation. He‘ll be going into the final year of his contract in the upcoming season. There‘s no reason to part ways with him — he‘s still their best option at strong-side linebacker and he‘s inexpensive. I think the 49ers will concentrate on improving his pass rush; the loose plan is to give him some consideration at the “Leo” position during the offseason.

Would pursuing Ziggy Ansah be a good move to help our low- sack defense?

ANSW: Well, he finished with 12 sacks this season, which is nearly double that of 49ers sack leader Elvis Dumervil. Robert Saleh believes he‘s two pieces away from having a very strong defense — cornerback and edge rusher. Ansah will be very familiar to 49ers executive Martin Mayhew, who drafted him in the first round in Detroit. One very notable downside to Ansah: He‘s played only five NFL seasons but will be 29 in May.

Matt Barrows: , about the team at .

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