The San Francisco 49ers signed left tackle Joe Staley to a six-year contract extension Thursday, securing their durable young lineman through 2017.
Staley, a first-round pick in 2007 from Central Michigan, has played every offensive snap in his first two seasons with San Francisco. He started every game at right tackle as a rookie before moving to the other end of the line last year, replacing injury-prone Jonas Jennings.
Staley didn't seek a contract extension from the 49ers, but the club approached him early in the offseason about a long-term deal, eager to wrap up the anchor of their rebuilt offensive line.
"I believe in what we've got going here, and I really believe you've got to keep people around here for an extended period of time if you're going to build a winning team," said Staley, the first 49ers lineman to start every game as a rookie since Cas Banaszek in 1968. "I want to play my whole career here, and I'd be very fortunate to do so."
Staley hopes the 49ers' upcoming signings include linebacker Patrick Willis, the 49ers' other first-round pick in 2007. Willis has made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons in the NFL, leading the league in tackles and earning the defensive rookie of the year award in his first campaign.
After four years of mostly mediocre blocking for Alex Smith and Frank Gore, the 49ers have installed four of their recent draft picks as starters heading into the upcoming season.
Along with Staley and center Eric Heitmann, both of San Francisco's starting guards – David Baas and Chilo Rachal – emerged as starters last season. The Niners also recently signed former Pittsburgh veteran Marvel Smith to play right tackle, where he'll compete with homegrown Adam Snyder.
"I believe that the front office understands that's how you build champions," Staley added. "You look at the Giants' offensive line, and they've been playing together for five years. That's why they're considered one of the best. That's how you build a franchise, with young players that you extend through a number of years instead of using the plug-and-play system."
Staley emerged as the line's anchor last season, handling several elite pass rushers during the 49ers' sixth consecutive losing season. Staley also is a team leader who keeps the mood light in the locker room and during off-the-field activities.