A day could come when Joe Looney looks back on the Summer of 2014 and thinks about how thankful he was for Alex Boone’s holdout. Boone’s 29-day absence has gifted Looney a starting role while the 49ers are operating as if Boone will be away from the team for the foreseeable future.
That, of course, is barring either side making a concession in these heated contract negotiations.
Given the way the front office has operated, it would not be a surprise to see Looney get a contract extension when he’s eligible following the coming season, especially if he’s forced into action at right guard if Boone’s holdout continues, or if Boone gets traded.
After being drafted in 2012, Looney, the former fourth-round pick, will be entering a contract year in 2015, much like Daniel Kilgore was before signing a three-year extension in February. Kilgore agreed to the deal having never made a start, becoming the 19th-highest paid center in the league according to overthecap.com.
Kilgore’s extension was modest, paying him a reported $5.25 million through 2017 after being taken in the fifth round in 2011. He's slated to become the starter with Jonathan Goodwin back in New Orleans.
With Boone away, the 49ers haven’t been shy about inking new contracts. Earlier this week injured nose tackle Glenn Dorsey received a two year extension despite tearing a biceps tendon early in camp. Joe Staley received his two-year extension last month.
Corner Tramaine Brock was another player that received a deal on the cusp of becoming a full-time starter in November. Brock received a four-year extension three days before officially making just his second start of his career against Washington. He signed for $16 million, or $4 million per season - another modest price for a newly minted starter.
Notice a trend?
The other side to a potential Looney extension could be tied to left guard Mike Iupati’s fate. Iupati is one of the league’s best guards when healthy and could be paid handsomely on the open market when he becomes a free agent after the season. With the 49ers expecting significant raises for Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, and perhaps Michael Crabtree next year, it doesn’t appear there’s room under the salary cap for Iupati to earn what he would make as a free agent in the spring.
For now, Looney is predictably being lauded by the coaching staff and his teammates for his work in Boone’s place with the starting offensive line.
”As a first-time starter, every day you’ve got to be on the details of things every single day, every single play,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “It’s a little different when you get put into that role than being in the backup role. Every play there’s pressure on you to do your job and to do it in the way that you’re being coached to do. Players that respond in that fashion generally do well and (Looney's) doing that.”
Looney made his pro debut last year, his second season, when he was asked to play right guard when Boone moved over to left tackle to replace the injured Joe Staley in Week 13 against the Rams.
He performed well against St. Louis’ talented defensive front, making a case the team won’t be squarely behind the eight ball should Boone remain away.
”(Looney) came in last year for us and played well,” Kaepernick said. “So I think he’s someone that we have confidence in and the more time he’s on the field, the more confidence we have.”
Reports surfaced Wednesday indicating the 49ers are not inclined to trade Boone. The Sacramento Bee reported San Francisco was looking for a first or second-round pick in exchange for the guard. CSN Bay Area reported the 49ers were fielding calls from interested teams, but are not interested in trading him.
Given the staunch stance of both Boone’s representatives and the 49ers’ brass, it appears Looney could be starting for the remainder of the preseason, where both he and his coaches feel the most improvement in his game has been made.
”When I first got here,” Looney said, “coach Roman told me in order to get better at football you have to play. Being in the games, preseason games, helps everybody out.”
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