He’s back. The enigmatic former and once-again San Francisco 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis is once again the 49ers’ right tackle. He announced on Twitter yesterday that he had filed his reinstatement papers with both the 49ers and the NFL.
— Tony (@BamDavis_) July 25, 2016
During the 2014 offseason, Davis suddenly announced his retirement from the NFL over health concerns. He said from the beginning that he was only going to be gone for a season or two and that he would be back in 2016. Few believed him, and his retirement was lost in the deluge of players leaving. It wasn’t as impactful as Patrick Willis or as unexpected as Chris Borland. But Davis is back now, with his reinstatement papers officially filed. He had plenty of talent when he stepped away and at 26, he should still have a lot left in the tank.
But what does this mean for the 49ers? A lot. First, despite him butting heads with the front office when he was working on his return earlier this year, early indications are that the 49ers are set to keep Davis on the roster, and not trade him as some thought. This is very, very good for 49ers. A few days ago I wrote about how the 49ers had one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2015, and that the right side was especially egregious. Erik Pears was named one of our players with the most to lose on the roster, and he’s lost it all already.
Davis enters a three-way battle for the RT role with Pears and sophomore Trent Brown. Even though Davis hasn’t played in a full season, he is already the best option of the three. Pears is a disaster, and Brown cannot keep his weight under control. Davis was a bruiser but his time away from the game may be beneficial to him. By reports, he has slimmed down, which is perfect for Chip Kelly’s dynamic blocking schemes (compared to Jim Harbaugh, who would have run ten of the biggest O-Lineman he could find and a running back if he could have). The 49ers immediately upgrade along the line, even if Davis is 75% of his former self. That’s how dire the 49ers RT situation is: a man who hasn’t played football since December 2014 is suddenly the best option on the roster.
What is the downside? Well, Davis missed OTAs and minicamps. He apparently lost a lot, there, given that Kelly is all about tempo, rhythm, and tempo. He will be behind the curve with regards to the Kelly system. And he would need to have an amazing training camp to catch up. It’s no doubt that Davis has an uphill battle, but on pure talent, he is the best option on the roster. He may lose out on a starting gig to start the season, but there is little doubt he will be the RT by mid-season.
As for his contract, the 49ers have plenty of cap space in coming seasons to absorb his contract. His $3,000,000 dead money becomes $5.15 million for this season and $19.25 million over the subsequent three seasons. With the salary cap going up and Davis theoretically entering his prime, it is worth a gamble. The 49ers are unlikely to move him, despite his criticisms of the front office during his “retirement.” With him being out of the game for a year and a potential threat to do it again, the Niners are unlikely to get anything other than a day three pick out of a trade for Davis. With one of the worst rosters in the NFL, they would be smart to keep Davis instead of trying to flip him for a pick that faces an uphill battle to make the roster.
Anthony Davis returning gives the 49ers an immediate talent upgrade along the offensive line, and by a pure talent standpoint, he’s one of the top ten players on the team. His time away from the NFL leaves the team with plenty of doubt and uncertainty. Doubt and uncertainty are the theme of this 49ers’ offseason, so he should fit right in.