Two weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers signed star linebacker Patrick Willis to a five-year, $50 million dollars contract extension through the 2016 season. My first thoughts were that Willis did indeed deserve this extension as he has been nothing short of spectacular since being chosen with the 11th overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Willis has not missed any games in the three seasons that he has played so far in the league. He has already racked up 453 tackles, 9 sacks, and 4 interceptions. Willis is a player that gives it his all and so far has been a great leader in the sense that he accepts his role and does what the coaches ask of him. His demeanor and character would suggest he is older than 25 years of age.
I am also encouraged that Willis knows that now that he has a contract, he must still continue to produce at a high level. As he said himself, “…It is not over yet”. Patrick Willis in his press conference acknowledged that he has to improve in many areas and said that what he has done in the last 3 years is only the “…tip of the iceberg”. Often times, once a player receives a large contract or a contract extension in this case, the player will disappear or think that he is entitled to all that he wants (see: Albert Haynesworth in Washington). Willis does not strike me as that type of guy. It may have to do with his humble beginnings. Nonetheless, he is extremely happy where he is at and so are the fans.
Sometime ago, when coach Singletary was asked about coaching both Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis, he had the following to say:
“I’ve coached two of the greatest linebackers-one that has already proven to be one of the greatest and one who will prove to be”
No small talk from coach Singletary. Singletary, himself a linebacker knows the position extremely well. I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head that is better suited to teach the middle linebacker to Willis. And, as you all know, Singletary will not give praise to any player unless that player truly deserves it. Anyways, just to get a sense of where Willis’ career might be headed, I looked up Ray Lewis’ totals from his first three seasons and compared them to Willis’ first three seasons.
As you can see, the numbers are similar. If they are any indication, we can rest assured that when it is all said and done Willis will be one of the greatest middle linebackers of all time. It is just that clear. The only noticeable difference between the two is the way they go in preparing for the games. Aside from his hard hits and consistent play, Lewis has also made a name for himself for his sound bites. He is intimidating and likes to get in the grill of his opponents. So far, Willis has not been that kind of guy and I could not care any less. As long as his teammates respect him and understand that he is the leader of the defense, and he continues to put up amazing numbers on the field, he does not need to be a chatter box.
Now, where do the 49ers go from here? Perhaps lock up Vernon Davis. Davis had a breakout season in 2009 and it would seem logical to make sure he goes nowhere and remains part of the future of the team. It looks as if Davis has no plans of holding out from OTA’s and training camp, and that can only help his case.
Ray Lewis won a Super Bowl in his 5th season; let’s see if Willis can bring that 6th championship he promised in his 4th season.