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Patrick Willis contract solid but not spectacular

After linebacker Patrick Willis signed a five-year, $50 million extension with the 49ers, coach Mike Singletary proclaimed that the three-year veteran “may go down as one of the best” to play the position.

So why isn’t Willis being paid better than any of the men who currently play the position?

After details as to the Willis deal were reported, several league insiders expressed surprise regarding the fact that the contract fails to set a new high-water mark for linebackers.  Some believed that Willis ultimately would be paid not as the best linebacker in the game, but as the best defensive player in the game, regardless of position.

It didn’t happen.  Our goal in this regard isn’t to trash the deal or praise the contract, but to set forth both sides of the story, because we think each side has some appeal.

The naysayers point out that, when it comes to cash paid out after the first three and four years, Willis lags behind three other linebackers:  Karlos Dansby, Bart Scott, and DeMeco Ryans.  Though the gap based on three and four years isn’t huge, the objectively undeniable fact that Willis is better than any of the others makes the objectively undeniable fact that he didn’t get more than each of them glaring.

“Willis is the next Ray Lewis,” one league source said.  “This is like the contract Ray Lewis signed in 2003.  It isn’t much better.”

But there’s an important difference to keep in mind.  Dansby got his deal as an unrestricted free agent, after six years in the league and two under the franchise tag.  Scott received his contract as a unrestricted free agent.  Ryans was a restricted free agent, but the fact that he had no contract allowed him to be paid without regard to the 30-percent rule.

Willis had two years left on his rookie deal.  Apart from the complications presented by the 30 percent rule, Willis was saddled with the risk — for 32 regular-season games, eight preseason games, many offseason, preseason, and in-season practices, and up to eight postseason games — of a serious injury that would have dramatically harmed his market value.  So he instead inked a deal after only three seasons and at age 25 that will pay him nearly $30 million over four years.

Could he have gotten more if he’d played for roughly $800,000 in 2010 and $2.5 million in 2011 and (most likely) the franchise tender in 2012 (and possibly 2013)?  Sure.  But at some point in the next two, three, or four years, he also could have gotten seriously hurt — and thus never received the kind of monster payday that sets him and at least a generation after him up for life, especially if he invests the money conservatively and doesn’t spend lavishly or recklessly.

So while other agents may regret that Willis didn’t blow out the market, since it would have helped other players get more money, the fact remains that Willis had to make the best decision for himself and his family.  Under the specific circumstances that he faced, we probably would have made the same choice.

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27 Responses to “Patrick Willis contract solid but not spectacular”
  1. eaglealan64 says: May 5, 2010 9:57 AM

    Nice analysis.
    Of course if he had been an Eagles player you would have ripped the team for storing up future trouble by signing a young player to a below market value deal ….
    Funny that isn’t it!

  2. IanWhetstone says: May 5, 2010 10:04 AM

    So, do you have details on how specifically this money is going to be paid out? It would be a lot easier to compare it to the Dansby, Scott, and Ryans contract with some less nebulous numbers.

  3. SaintsBucsPanthersSUKK says: May 5, 2010 10:05 AM

    Nahhhhh, it’s spectacular Mr. Greedy McMoneygrubber.

  4. dldove77 says: May 5, 2010 10:12 AM

    Beason’s contract will blow this out of the water. And it should.

  5. Love_Boat_Scandal says: May 5, 2010 10:12 AM

    “After linebacker Patrick Willis signed a five-year, $50 million extension with the 49ers, coach Mike Singletary proclaimed that the three-year veteran “may go down as one of the best” to play the position.”
    That’s why you proclaim these things after the contract is signed and not before.

  6. DrakeDB says: May 5, 2010 10:15 AM

    I’m sure every player in the league is aware of what happened to Leon Washington and his decision to turn down a big-bucks contract renegotiation.
    One broken leg later and he’s screwed out of a contract that would’ve taken care of him and his family for a lifetime.

  7. WarrenMoonGOAT says: May 5, 2010 10:16 AM

    i can’t believe i just sat here and read all that

  8. AirlineGuy says: May 5, 2010 10:20 AM

    Is Willis happy enough to sign it? If so then the team is good with it, the player is good with it, and the FO is good with it then who are you/we to question it?

  9. r8rsfan says: May 5, 2010 10:34 AM

    Poor little Patty Willis – has to settle for table scraps.

  10. posidelphia says: May 5, 2010 10:40 AM

    OK Florio you’re on record as saying it was a smart move for the kid and an unecessary (since he has 2 years + FT), but FAIR move by the 49ers. And you made no reference to any risk being taken by the 49ers that in 3 years Willis might be bitching about this deal and making life difficult for them. Matter of fact – you could argue that this is the only way a fiscally sound NFL franchise can develop their young players, pay them, and keep them.
    Maybe Joe Banner is onto something…

  11. Slow Joe says: May 5, 2010 10:43 AM

    It is an excellent contract considering the circumstances. The 49ers were wise to lock him in now, two years before they technically had to. They built some goodwill with Willis and the 49er fans. And, for doing it so early, they got a discount from some of the biggest linebacker contracts out there.
    Keep in mind, the Niners didn’t have to do this right now. So if you put the injury-risk and the time value of money in perspective, this is a very good contract for both parties.
    I wish the Buccaneers would heed this with a few of their young players.

  12. Jack Acid says: May 5, 2010 10:45 AM

    ROFLMAO @ the dude who said Beason should get paid
    more. Solid ILB, but doesn’t sniff Willis jock strap and if I recall correcly, has had some troubles with the law.
    Get real!

  13. SFTitan says: May 5, 2010 10:54 AM

    Good for Patrick Willis not trying to squeeze another million here or there. And it’s dbags like Florio who have to criticize it and continue the money grubbing.
    Typical lawyer and the reason people hate them.

  14. SagNasty says: May 5, 2010 11:04 AM

    Fair analysis…….. of course he’s going to take a haircut two years out of FA. Contract was correctly priced by both parties.
    Sets the market for David Harris (who’s better than Beason).

  15. darrius_heyward-bey-butterfingers says: May 5, 2010 11:04 AM

    “dldope77″ Beason is not comparable to Willis. You are right that Beason will get an Albert Haynesworth deal though, just look at the way they locked up Delhomme with a big deal two years ago. Shrewd businessmen those Panthers are, giving SF a top 20 1st rounder for Everett Somebody at #49 last year. And they traded a 2011 2nd for a 2010 3rd this year.

  16. dlmcc0909 says: May 5, 2010 11:11 AM

    As long as Patrick Willis is happy with the contract, thats all that matters. At the same time no one is going to want to hear him cry about it in 2 years if he wins a Defensive player of the year award and he feels hes undervalued.
    I would have done the same thing if i was him. Maybe he could have gotten more, but I would be scared to get hurt and lose out on $30 million guaranteed. Its like you said, his wife and kids will never have to work a boring 9-5 job in their lives to get by like alot of us do. Thats what counts

  17. 49erFanLivingInDallas says: May 5, 2010 11:12 AM

    I’m in agreement with Ian Whetstone, it’d be nice to see some comparative year by year numbers to see exactly how this adds up to the other top tier linebackers in the league.

  18. pigsty says: May 5, 2010 11:13 AM

    Willis was saddled with the risk — for 32 regular-season games, eight preseason games, many offseason, preseason, and in-season practices, and up to eight postseason games — of a serious injury that would have dramatically harmed his market value.
    Good catch Florio.
    Willis was on crutches recently recovering from (minor) knee surgery.
    He also popped an MCL in college.
    Injury issues were mentioned in a few 2007 pre-draft reports. But no one knows his body better than the guy putting it out there on the field.
    Willis may have a “sense” that he needed security now. The 49ers happily obliged.

  19. Other Bears says: May 5, 2010 11:21 AM

    Mike Singletary proclaimed that the three-year veteran “may go down as one of the best” to play the position.
    So why isn’t Willis being paid better than any of the men who currently play the position?
    ——————
    Because you don’t PAY based on “MAY.”
    Also, this is an early extension compared to when most guys get them these days. How much would he have lost if they waited one more year to extend him?
    What if, and I know this sounds crazy, Willis is a class act who realizes that this is a ton of money that will secure him and his family for the rest of their lives and if he’s greedy for more, he lessens the chances of getting better talent around him. This way, he sets an example of getting his business taken care of without scraping for every dime. Showing this humility will set an example for his teammates, and as a leader, more top-notch players may follow suit.
    I know, I know – it’s a stupid idea. No one has any class these days. So you’re right. This is a crap deal for Willis.

  20. chc4 says: May 5, 2010 12:21 PM

    I don’t see how salaries can keep escalating at the same rate they have the last 10 years. If they do, all average players will be making $10-15 mill per year before too long. That is not sustainable.

  21. 49erFaithful says: May 5, 2010 12:53 PM

    The difference, Florio, is that the others signed “phony year” contracts. That is, there’s some huge amount of money at the back-end of these contracts that the player will never earn.
    Willis’ contract is, like most 49er contracts, designed to be played through its entirety, versus being a big bonus-splash then the player is gone in a few years. Something that cannot be said about the other deals.
    Dansby’s 5 year, $43 million deal is a 3-year, $26 million contract. Scott’s 6-year, $48 million deal is a 3-year, $27 million deal. And Ryan’s is $26 million in the first 3-years as well.
    Willis is guaranteed, if he doesn’t play another down, to earn $29 million. The other $21 million is spread over the life of the contact and doesn’t put him in the same category as the others who will suddenly face teams trying to figure out if the huge “last years” bubble is worth it…
    Something, btw, you’ve harped on for a long-time Florio… Which makes your post that much more strange in its criticism… Or at least the passing on of criticism.
    Willis will get his money. I bet dollars to donuts that two of those other three will not finish their contracts.
    Also, if Willis keeps his play up, this contract will be superseded in 2014 by the next extension. Because when you play well, the 49ers are more than happy to keep you now that they’ve gotten over the financial stupidity of Eddie the Cheater.

  22. chemicalxv says: May 5, 2010 1:21 PM

    “# chc4 says: May 5, 2010 12:21 PM
    I don’t see how salaries can keep escalating at the same rate they have the last 10 years. If they do, all average players will be making $10-15 mill per year before too long. That is not sustainable.”
    Sounds like a Madden franchise after 10-15 years! I end up having to pay 75 overall CBs 10 million/year and anyone over 90 overall wants 20 million! Franchise QBs want 30 million a year!

  23. Duan says: May 5, 2010 1:30 PM

    All I got to say is this!
    Rookie payscale a.s.a.p!
    Give’em three guaranteed years at a certain amount per draft position and heavy escalators for immediate playing time, super duper incentives for lighting it up at their respective positions!
    I think the Patric Willis deal was a sensible deal.
    I just want a rookie payscale in place! It will really help the draft and making them little jokers report to camp, instead of holding out.

  24. toonster says: May 5, 2010 1:49 PM

    As an inside backer in the 3-4, I’ll take Karlos Dansby over Patrick Willis. I think Dansby has a more complete game than Willis and is better in coverage. If we were talking 4-3, I’d take Willis over Dansby, as Willis is great in a read and chase role, but I like Dansby much better for 3-4, particularly as it relates to coverage and the ability to stack.

  25. lin1945 says: May 5, 2010 1:52 PM

    The most complete article with outline of facts and specific timeline on this whole Ben R matter can be found at
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1169185/1/index.htm
    The article is outstanding and worth the time to read.

  26. chemicalxv says: May 5, 2010 2:46 PM

    “# toonster says: May 5, 2010 1:49 PM
    As an inside backer in the 3-4, I’ll take Karlos Dansby over Patrick Willis. I think Dansby has a more complete game than Willis and is better in coverage. If we were talking 4-3, I’d take Willis over Dansby, as Willis is great in a read and chase role, but I like Dansby much better for 3-4, particularly as it relates to coverage and the ability to stack.”
    You do realize how bad Dansby was in coverage right?

  27. this class sucks says: May 5, 2010 2:54 PM

    @Toonster
    Are you joking? Dansby is better a coverage than Willis? Patrick Willis has 4 interceptions and 23 passes defensed. In that same time period Dansby has 4 interceptions and 13 passes defensed. And Willis (according to 40 yard dash time) is much faster than Dansby. And of course Willis dominates Dansby in tackles. But don’t let those facts get in the way of your argument.

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