If Gronk can un-retire, why can’t these ex-49ers?

What would it take to lure Garrett Celek, among others, off the couch?
(Credit: Associated Press)

Sometime Tuesday, a peal of thunder tore the air, the clouds opened up, the world was bathed in an eerie light the color of Jose Cuervo Gold, and the NFL announced that Rob Gronkowski had come out of retirement. The Patriots are trading him to Tampa Bay, where he will reunite with his boo, Tom Brady.

Gronk’s emergence from a one-year hiatus got me thinking. Which former 49ers would be most likely to un-retire and join their former team in Santa Clara? Is Jerry Rice too old? Would Ian Williams consider putting down his microphone and sliding into a locker at Levi’s Stadium?

Here are my top 10 ex-49ers to coax off the couch and onto the field. I included guys who (as far as I know) never officially announced their retirements, but are currently unaffiliated and have sat out at least one full season.

GARRETT CELEK: If Gronkowski can do it, why not this recently retired tight end? Celek was no George Kittle, but he was a popular 49ers teammate for eight years and a versatile minor part in the system. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten directions to team headquarters, either. Celek announced his retirement on Feb. 7 after battling back injuries for a year. Is it Celek Time again? Maybe he can be this year’s Earl Mitchell.

PIERRE GARCON: Yes, he is 33 years old, the elder of this list. But Garcon played as recently as 2018, when he caught 24 passes for the 49ers. No doubt he has lost some speed. But who is the Niners’ current top possession wide receiver? Hello? Anyone?

ELI HAROLD: He was highly disappointing in his three years as a 49ers edge rusher, collecting just five sacks in three full seasons. Harold did a little better for the Lions in 2018, but after a trade to Philadelphia, the Eagles cut him just before the 2019 season. He has failed to latch on since. Harold is just 26, though, and he always was a superior athlete. Is he worth one more shot as a Dee Ford insurance policy?

BRANDON FUSCO: Do you guys remember Fusco starting 16 games at right guard for the 49ers in 2017? No? Me either, really. But he did. They were among the 87 starts he made in eight NFL seasons, most of them with Minnesota. The 49ers need help in the interior line. It seems they always do lately. There are worse options than the 31-year-old Fusco, who I believe has never announced his retirement.

BROCK COYLE: He broke a bone in his back in 2018, and I’m not generally in favor of luring athletes into long-term health problems. But who knows how the man’s body is feeling at this point? Coyle hasn’t hit 30 yet, and he was a solid linebacker for the 49ers in 2017, when he started 10 games and finished fifth on the team with 64 tackles.

TORREY SMITH: Another aging wide receiver who might contribute to a team with few proven wide receivers. Smith is smart and committed, and was a great locker-room presence in Santa Clara. He is a little younger than Garcon at 31, but hasn’t topped 500 yards in a season since 2015, his first with the 49ers. He retired last September. He’s still faster than you or me.

QUINTON DIAL: Every team needs depth on the D-line, right? That includes the 49ers, who are attempting to replace stalwart defensive tackle DeForest Buckner by committee. Dial last played in 2017, a season in Green Bay that was ruined by a knee injury. The guy was good during his four seasons with the Niners, though. Quite good. Dial started a total of 26 games in 2015-16.

ALEX BOONE: Unlike most of these guys, Boone has announced that he is actively attempting a comeback after two seasons away from the game. He reportedly hung out at the NFL combine in February to meet with prospective teams. Boone always was a good blocker, impressively athletic for his size (6-7, 330). At 32, he might have some tread on the tires. I must admit that Boone was never my favorite 49er. He could be downright rude. On the other hand, getting him back on the roster might get him off the local radio airwaves, and I’d be fine with that.

COLIN KAEPERNICK: Quick reminder. Kaepernick is not actually retired. He is just, uh, not quite as good as [checks notes] Trevor Siemian and Luke Falk, both of whom started NFL games in 2019? Somehow? True, Kyle Shanahan already decided once that Kap wasn’t his quarterback. Never say never, though. You know Kaepernick is in great shape, and 32 is prime career for a QB. Plus, signing him would generate massive attention, most of it positive here in the Bay Area.

CHRIS BORLAND: He walked away after an outstanding rookie season in 2014, citing his unwillingness to risk health and happiness in the wake of multiple concussions. Since then, Borland has become of sports’ most respected voices on the subject of head injuries. He’s just 29 yet. Still, I think the only chance here is for Borland to invent his own state-of-the-art helmet and come back to Santa Clara to prove its worth.

This article has 54 Comments

  1. Surprised no Willis was mentioned here, though I suppose he was the go-to popular pick for quite some time.

    None of the above, to be honest. None were in the calibre of Gronk, and frankly I don’t see a single name I’d prefer to someone the Niners currently have. Except Rice of course, but you know.

    1. I definitely considered P-Willy for the list. If he knocks on the door and wants a tryout (even at 35), how do you say no?

  2. Celek time ran out.

    Pierre is sur la colline.

    The book on Eli ended poorly.

    Brock was no Lesnar.

    No more Smith’s.

    Dial B for Baalke.

    Boone was no Daniel.

    Kaepernick went kaputnik.

    Chrissy Joe took the money and ran.

    1. Raz,
      Ha! That’s amazing my friend.
      But my only retired comeback player would be Patrick Willis. He still might give the team a contribution and great leadership.

  3. Krapernick? Oh lord NO, did someone mention Krapernick?
    Seb and his tractor last seen headed to the “DARK SIDE OF THE MOON!”

    1. Seriously? If Cohn wrote this nothing article he would be getting crucified. As well he should!

  4. Justin M
    Fresno State LB Mykal Walker has held 11 virtual meetings in total. He’s a great value pick.

    Full list: #Cardinals, #Saints, #Colts, #Lions, #Giants, #Raiders, #Chiefs, #Patriots, #49ers, #Dolphins, #Browns.

    7:55 PM – Apr 21, 2020

  5. Damien Lewis doesn’t impress me as a player that Shanny would have genuine interest in athletically, even though he’s strong at the point of attack in the run game. Hardly versatile either….

    1. Neither are retired.

      Both are very old, Walker was drafted the same year as Vernon, why not say he should come back as he just retired.

      Gore should come back for a retirement ceremony, but definitely would love to seem him suit up in 21 again.

  6. Phil

    I did like Eli Harold…but How would it look to have Willis Bowman and Borland at LB…

  7. 1. I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe.
    2. Jeudy is a special talent. Great if he is available at 13.
    3. Niners really need to give some thought to CB situation long term. Several contracts are expiring next year.
    4. I am assuming Mostert will be the primary ball carrier this year. I am also assuming he gives up his role as special teams gunner. Is there someone who can replace him currently on the roster or does it need to be addressed via draft?
    4a. Niners special teams coverage unit was quite good last year.
    5. I saw the report about Hunter Henry and current rumors regarding Howard. I am hoping Dwelley gets more reps this year. He has earned it.
    6. Same with Jeff Wilson. He played well in a limited role.
    7. Cabin fever is a real thing

    1. I still feel like Lynch will trade down from #13 into the 20’s and select Jalen Reagor. With his next selection he’ll address the OT position. On day two via the trade he’ll target the DL. Round 4 via trade will be TE. Rounds 5-7 will be when he attacks the secondary.

      Breida took over Mostert’s gunner position if I’m not mistaken, as well as Witherspoon….

        1. Well sure, he’s proven he can find a starter in the 5th round. I think Lamb, Jeudy and HR3 are gone before #13, and the 49ers contingency plan in that event is to trade down into the 20’s picking up at least a 3rd and 4th round pick, and then targeting Reagor with the first of their 1st round picks….

  8. Wills is a -176 favorite to be the first offensive lineman drafted, via MGM’s odds. That puts him as a fairly solid favorite over Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, who is at +180. Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas is third at +700, while Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton is fourth at +900.

  9. Surmising about my mock draft picks, The Lions will most likely go with Okuda, since 95% of the mocks say he is the best player at a position of major need. The Jags will probably pick Javon Kinlaw, although I had hoped he would drop to the Niners. They also lost Ramsey, so CJ Henderson may be another Option. The Eagles most likely will go WR, although some drafts have them select a LB, so Justin Jefferson WR or Kenneth Murray LB, may be good options.
    The Seahawks will be a tough one to pick for. Most mocks have them going for AJ Epenesa and Yetur Gros-Matos, since they have not re-signed Clowney. However, Pete liked Metcalf because of his combine workout, so maybe he will think outside the box and choose Michael Turk because he did 25 reps. Why, that is more than some D linemen! ;p

      1. ?
        Everything may change. when it comes to the actual mock, and teams take players. I hope j joins the mock, so I can give up the Seahawk pick.
        I would be happy to let you pick the Seahawks, so I will not be accused of being a Seasquawk fan.

  10. Hi Phil,
    Thanks for reminding us of those old Niners players — many from Harbaugh’s heydays. But their time has come and gone. As that old adage goes: NFL stands for Not for Long. Niners have a really good team with no obvious holes (including receivers) but in need for quality depth, especially over the next two seasons when several contracts end.

  11. 2 days before the draft and THIS is what we’re talking about? Brandon Fusco coming out of retirement? How about an update on Weston Richburg and how his recovery might impact the 49ers draft strategy? Or maybe a look at potential 49er trade partners for their 1st round picks? Perhaps some investigative reporting on the trade offers the 49ers rejected for Goodwin or Breida. Or maybe what it would take for the 49ers to trade for OJ Howard or Evan Engram.

    1. Some desperate team’s last ditch effort to get his stock to tank even though the issue has been a known quantity back in February….

    2. Amazing. Jeudy had 77 catches for 1163 yards, 15.1 average, for 10 TDs and 24 TDs in 28 games.
      All on one leg. ;p

      1. All on one lag…not for 3 seasons. His surgery was in the spring of before his 2nd season, his most productive season, so if theres an undisclosed injury it happened sometime after that season as his stats dropped in his final season.

        1. I think his stats dropped because Devote Smith had 1256 yards and Henry Ruggs had 746 yards, so he had to share the ball with receivers who had 2000 yards.

  12. Apparently the Niners gave Kaep a shot at being a hot dog vendor at Levi. In his tryout, he had 3 attempts at getting the dog in the bun. All three fell incomplete to the ground. Some things never change.

        1. ;p
          I hope posters have seen my restraint in not going off on a Kaep tangent.
          Would you like to participate in this upcoming mock draft? You can pick for the Eagles, if you like.

          1. Yes, Il take the eagles if available. If not don’t sweat it, Tnx for the offer!

  13. Definitely no Eli Harold, he was such a waste of time and space.

    I’d rather have Aaron Lynch back than him, he had talent out of the building.

  14. How critical is the #13th pick in this draft for the 49ers? We traded a pretty good player in Buck so what does a return/player have to be? An instant starter or multiple picks?

    I’m of the belief that the 13th pick is really dependent on what the other 12 teams ahead of us do. One scenario had Miami trading up to #2 to get Hebert. That makes a lot of good players cascade down in the draft. We might end up with a player we have no significant need for. Example, Isiah Simmons, LB might fall. Or maybe Derrick Brown, DT, or one of the OT’s. Yes we have a need at DL and OT, but not greater than WR or corner but those players might be the best available and we have no choice but to draft them. Either way, the return has to be significant enough to justify the trade for DeForest Buckner.

    1. Prime sounds l8me the Raiders May want want Ruggs at 12. Sounds like from him he has heard regularly from Broncos, Raiders and Niners.

    2. I think its BPA at 13 if no trade is made (outside of QB).

      But I think a trade will happen, might just be a drop of 5 or so spots, plus a 2nd rounder. To me, that feels like a better value and a way to fill more holes at positions of need than just getting two firsts and nothing until the 5th.

      The fact that they don’t have a pick between 31 and 156 is HUUUGGGEE. Trade 13 back to a bit later and get a 2nd. Trade 31 back for a high 2nd and a 3rd, and you just got 2 additional picks in the 2nd and 3rd round.

      1. Are the players you get in the later rounds better than what you get at #13 and #31?

        1. Are Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Rodney Harrison, Steve Largent, and Roger Starbaugh better than Ryan Leaf, JaMarcuss Russell, Akili Smith, Bryant Westbrook, Mike Williams and Heath Shuler?

          Who was the best rookie WR this last year? You got Marquise Brown and N’Keal Harry in the first vs Deebo, AJ Brown and DK Metcalf in the 2nd (with two other guys). Last year those 2nd rounders outperformed the 1st rounders.

          A draft position does not guarantee a good or bad player. I’d rather move back from 13 to 20 if it means I get a 2nd round guy who can give me Deebo level of production at his position.

          1. In that regards, its just a crap shoot then. The draft will never be a exact science but I think we can get a starting WR and corner at #13 and #31.

            1. Sure they can, but they need to look at OT, DT, TE and possible Safety help. Guys in the 5th, 6th, and 7th CAN turn into contributors, and occassionaly become probowler, but the odds of getting guys with a 1st in the late teens, plus 2nds and a 3rd, added in with their 5/6/7ths will also garner starters and more depth which is needed (dline lost Buck and Day, Blair coming back) so that point of strength is not nearly as strong.

              I just feel they need more picks and the difference between 13 and 20 is not so much that its a loss, especially when you add a 2nd on top.

    3. Prime Time
      Don’t overlook Elway moving up for a WR. NYG GM, Dave Gettleman, has admitted he’s willing to trading down in the 2020 NFL Draft.

  15. A pre-draft thought, definitely not a prediction.
    I’d be happy with Jeudy at #13. I’m not going to whine about whatever they do including trade back.
    One quibble some have with Jeudy is that there are faster guys. Yep, and Eddie Brown and Al Toon we’re faster than Jerry Rice and got selected ahead of JR. JR worked out pretty well.

    1. Very well said, Greg Papa feels the same about Jeudy, I will say that Ruggs has very big and good hands and fights for the ball I hope he is Antonio brown without the craziness

  16. Some information on first round receivers. Last 15 Drafts 2005-2019. Numbers support better value in Round 2 where Kyle appears to prefer to pick his receivers:
    Round 1 WRs 53, Pro Bowl 15 (28%)
    Round 2 WRs 66, Pro Bowl 18 (27%)
    Round 3 WRs 73, Pro Bowl 9 (12%)
    Round 4 WRs 71, Pro Bowl 3 (4%)
    Round 5 WRs 53, Pro Bowl 2 (4%)
    Round 6 WRs 70, Pro Bowl 1 (1%)
    Round 7 WRs 82, Pro Bowl 0 (0%)

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