Ex-49ers OL Joe Staley Details Neck, Back Injuries That Led to RetirementMay 6, 2020
Former San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley told Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and free-agent linebacker Will Compton on the Bussin' With The Boys podcast (h/t Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle) that he would have required major fusion surgery to continue his NFL career.
"It was a bunch of stingers," Staley added. "It got to the point where in the Super Bowl, I'd make contact with my head with anybody (and) I'd have—from the base of my head down to my back—I'd just have a zing and my arms would go numb. I had herniations at a bunch of different levels and really severe stenosis."
Staley retired in April after 13 NFL seasons.
The six-time Pro Bowler was named second-team All-Pro three times during his illustrious career, which ended with a Super Bowl appearance.
That game ended in a 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but the left tackle helped protect quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's blind side en route to helping the team to a 13-3 record, No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and a conference championship.
Staley clearly played through serious injury in the championship, however, and detailed a postseason meeting with medical professionals. When told he needed fusion surgery "on multiple levels," Staley recalled the following, per Branch:
"I was like, 'I'm 35, I've got kids. I don't want to be unable to turn my neck for the rest of my life.'"
A fractured left fibula and fractured finger prevented Staley, who made 181 career starts, from seeing the field for nine regular-season games. He missed six matchups with the former injury, returned for a Week 10 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks and was forced to sit three more with the latter ailment. He was able to play through the rest of the regular season and playoffs.
ESPN's Nick Wagoner relayed comments from Staley made soon after his retirement in April that detailed his health following his second return to the gridiron in 2019.
"As that happened, Staley said he began dealing with back issues and a lingering neck pain that began to intensify. The neck injury got worse as the season went on, with Staley calling Super Bowl LIV the 'culmination' of the pain he was suffering.
"Soon after the season, Staley sought multiple medical opinions as he tried to determine the risks and what his future might be like after football if he continued to play. He kept the 49ers abreast of his plans.
"Staley said as recently as a month ago he still was considering his options, hoping that perhaps something would turn for the better to allow him to play. Staley had a self-imposed deadline of last week's NFL draft to let the team know his future so they could plan accordingly."
Still, Staley ended his career by playing at a high level, which was the norm throughout his career. Per Pro Football Focus, Staley was their third-highest-graded offensive tackle behind only Joe Thomas and Jason Peters over the last decade.
He also clearly had a positive impact on his teammates, with this video message from tight end George Kittle just one example:
The 49ers traded for Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams to replace Staley in the lineup.