As many fans already know, San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone didn’t show up to training camp last week in hopes that the team would increase his current $2 million salary. Boone has played a big role in the team’s success the past few seasons, but the Niners should stick to their policy of not negotiating with players who don’t report to camp, as Boone should be content with his already comfortable salary considering his 2013 performance was far from elite.
The lack of definitive statistics for offensive linemen can make it tricky to truly judge what Boone should be paid. However, Bleacher Report's Bryan Knowles explains that Pro Football Focus' advanced charting stats show an ominous decline in Boone's play last season (Pro Football Focus subscription required).
Pro Football Focus’ advanced charting stats are torn on Boone. In 2013, he only graded out at negative-2.1 (subscription required), 40th best in the league. In 2012, however, Boone’s grade of 24.2 had him as the third-best guard in all of football, behind only Marshal Yanda and Evan Mathis.
Is it possible that 2013 was a fluke and Boone could reemerge as one of the NFL’s top guards in 2014? Definitely—but Boone’s strategy to hold out for more money should have either happened following his huge 2012 season, or after he again proves his worth with a solid 2014 season.
One of the other major reasons Boone should end the stalemate and head back to practice is that he could become overshadowed by emerging players stepping up in his absence.
According to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco, backup guard Joe Looney has been a more than adequate replacement for Boone, and he has even drawn praise from head coach Jim Harbaugh. “He (Looney) also had some ‘wow’ moments during the practice,” Harbaugh said. “One in particular, I was like, ‘Wow.’ He pulled, he was on a track, he was square, he delivered a blow. Good things.”
Because of Looney’s rapid ascertainment of the position, Boone may find he has less leverage in the situation than he may have previously thought:
According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Boone signed his deal when he was a backup player—and he currently ranks 43rd in the NFL in average salary for guards, which explains why he wants a new deal. The problem is that he may not get it after a somewhat average season last year and the emergence of Looney, who the team is confident will be capable of taking over if Boone decides to skip the season.
General manager Trent Baalke shared his thoughts with Barrows on Looney’s performance after an injury that sidelined another player last season gave him an opportunity to see some playing time.
I think he proved last year when he went in there in, I believe, it was the Rams game,” Baalke said, per Barrows of The Sacramento Bee. “Joe went down and Boone kicked over to left tackle and Joe (Looney) stepped in, he played against one of the better defensive linemen in the league and did a really nice job… He showed he was more than capable. And now he’s a year better. So we’re very confident in his ability to step in there and play football at a winning level.
For a professional player in the NFL, $2 million may seem like a paltry sum, but Boone risks becoming irrelevant if he’s replaced as a starter.
It doesn’t appear as though the team is willing to offer Boone a better deal, so it would be wise for him to return to the team sooner rather than later—if the team doesn’t end up offering more money or trading him, the last thing he wants is for his starting position to be a warm spot on the bench.
Mike Martinez is a contributor for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @MikeMartinezBR