Kicker Gould receives franchise tag from 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Kicker Robbie Gould, one of the first free agents signed by the San Francisco 49ers when coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch took over in 2017, will be around for at least one more season after he received the team’s franchise tag on Tuesday.

He is the first player to receive the franchise designation this offseason.

The 2019 franchise tag for punters and kickers is projected to be just more than $5 million on the one-year tender offer. That money would be fully guaranteed should Gould elect to sign it, and the two sides can continue working on a long-term deal until the July 15 deadline.

Gould received the non-exclusive tag, meaning he can receive offers from other teams, but the 49ers can match any offer sheet he might sign.

Since 2009, half of the 12 kickers that have received the franchise tag then have gone on to sign new contracts with the team that tagged them.

Before tagging Gould, the 49ers attempted to work out a long-term contract with him. Lynch said at Senior Bowl in January that the team was “hopeful” it would be able to re-sign Gould and acknowledged talks had been underway.

“He’s kicked unbelievably for us,” Lynch said. “He’s been incredibly clutch for us. We’d like to reward him for that.”

But with the two sides unable to work out a deal, the Niners, who project to have more than $70 million in salary cap space, opted to use the tag in order to prevent Gould from leaving without a chance to match outside offers and/or receive compensation for him.

Gould is the first Niners player to be tagged since safety Dashon Goldson in 2012 and the first kicker the team has opted to give the designation since the tag’s inception.

Based on Gould’s productivity in two seasons with the team, it’s no surprise the Niners elected to retain control of his rights.

San Francisco signed Gould to a two-year, $4 million contract via free agency after he’d converted all 10 of his field goals in 2016 for the New York Giants, where he resurfaced after being released by the Chicago Bears, where he’d spent the first 11 years of his career.

Gould quickly acclimated to the normally difficult kicking conditions at Levi’s Stadium and has been the most accurate kicker in the league since. Over the past two seasons, he has made 72 of 75 field goal attempts, and his 96 percent conversion rate is tops in the NFL with only the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams attempting more field goals in that time.

All of that was enough to easily make Gould the Niners’ most important free agent in an offseason in which only a couple of fringe starters on offense and defense are set to hit the open market.

“Of course we want Robbie back,” Shanahan said at the end of the season. “He’s been great for two years. It’s nice for a coach, that … I’m not thinking about him missing [kicks] at all.”

Shanahan’s desire to keep Gould can be traced to previous teams he’s coached in which kicking has been a serious issue. In two seasons with Houston (2008-09), the Texans made 76.9 percent of their field goal attempts, which ranked 28th in the NFL in that span. When Shanahan ran the Washington Redskins’ offense, they converted just 75.8 percent of field goals from 2010 to 2013, the worst in the NFL in that period. In Shanahan’s one year in charge of Cleveland Browns’ offense, they were successful on just 78.1 percent of their attempts, also 28th in the NFL.

Combined, kickers on teams for which Shanahan called plays in his first seven years made 175 of 229 attempts — a 76.4 percent conversion rate that would rank dead last in the NFL and well below the league average of 83.7 percent for those seven seasons.

The 49ers’ decision to tag Gould comes after a couple of months in which it seemed a reunion with the Bears could be in the offing for the kicker, whose family lives in Chicago during the season while he has stayed at a hotel near the 49ers’ facility.

While indicating he would be open to a Windy City reconciliation, Gould also expressed that staying in San Francisco would be a good thing.

“It’s probably been the best two-year stretch I’ve had in my career, one of the best in the history of the game, and that happens with a lot of great people, right?” Gould said after the season. “… It just kind of worked since I’ve been here. And it’s been pretty easy. So, the organization checks a lot of boxes for me.”

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