Patrick Willis says there’s zero chance he’ll return to NFL


In the wake of the surprise retirement of 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, some have wondered whether he’ll be back in a year or two.  Willis says it won’t happen, ever.

Asked by Takeo Spikes of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk to rate his chance of returning on a scale of one to 10, Willis went off the board and said, “Zero.”

“The time for me has come,” Willis said.  “The time has come.  It’s time for change, and honestly it’s something that when I had that [toe] surgery, I’ve been talking about my feet for a long time, and people choose to hear what they hear. Sometimes people hear something that they just brush right off because to them it doesn’t really resonate. . . .  I understand that it was something that was talking to me, and talking to me for a long time and when I hurt my toe in that game I felt like, as soon as it happened, I went down and I felt it.

“It was like somebody lifted something off my back, almost like I felt a breath or something leave my back.  I have no idea I just knew what I felt like, it felt like somebody had lifted a million pounds off my back because you know as well as I do, as long as we played together, that I’ve always talked about our feet then. We play on turf this week, then it’s my feet this or my feet that.  To the point where people are like, you talk about it so much that it becomes redundant and people are just like, ‘Quit talking about your feet.’ . . .  They don’t know what I truly feel.  They might think they have an understanding.  Unless you have played eight years and you’ve had bad big toes like I’ve had and you put forward the effort and body of work that I have, on the stage that I have, unless you’ve done that then you really don’t understand what I’m trying to say.”

Willis explained that he didn’t play for the money, and that he would have played for a lot less money.

“It’s because, man, it’s fun.  When you’re around good people, when you’re around people like brothers, you’re fighting, you get upset at each other sometimes, but when you have a close-knit team where you got a bunch of guys it was fun for me,” Willis said.  “I’ve always enjoyed it and it’s always been a special place for me, like a sanctuary or something in a sense where it’s almost like an escape.  But what I couldn’t escape was that I was feeling in my feet.  Like something was telling me there was only a matter of time.”

That time has come for Willis.  It will come from every man who ever plays the game.  The only question is whether the player walks away on his own terms or whether someone else tells him to go.

64 responses to “Patrick Willis says there’s zero chance he’ll return to NFL

  1. Hype. All hype. He was never that good and to insinuate he should go into the Hall of Fame is INSULTING to real players like London Fletcher and other REAL Middle Linebackers who won championships and gave their heart into this sport and didn’t quit like Willis flat out did.

  2. You had a great career Pat and don’t owe anyone an explanation for your decision. Real Niner fans and football fans alike appreciate everything you accomplished in your career and enjoyed watching you. I feel especially fortunate I got to go to a Niner game this past season that you actually played in as it was before your toe injury.

  3. I never heard of this foot injury before but it does explain things. Can you imagine feeling like you just stubbed your toe 40-50 times over the course of a few hours?

  4. Logical Voice,

    From the moment he entered the league he instantly made an impact and was ALWAYS a top 5 player at his position. From pass coverage, to stopping the run, he was always there. Look up his highlights, and tell me that is not an elite linebacker. There’s even a video of him running down a wide receiver, as he was just an athletic freak.

    There is more to life than bashing your head every practice, every game, week after week, year after year for our entertainment. He knows that, and he plans on returning to Tennessee and giving back to his small community. He is at peace.

  5. 5 time first team all pro

    7 straight years in the pro bowl

    Get serious. This guy will get into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Ray Lewis thinks he’s one of the best to ever play the game.

  6. Everybody has their own opinions about who’s a Hall of Famer and who isn’t. The guys that eventually get in the Hall are guys that get voted in by non-football experts. Knowing that, it really doesn’t bother me about whether or not a player I like gets in. I trust my opinion more than the HOF voters. So I don’t care one bit if Patrick Willis gets into the HOF. But if you had a group of real football experts sit down with a bunch of tape of the best linebackers who ever played the game, Patrick Willis would be on the very top line. I can’t say that he’s the best ever, but I can say that there hasn’t been anyone better. So my humble opinion is that Patrick Willis is as good an inside linebacker as anyone in history. Watch the tapes and there is no argument.

  7. Championships don’t equal Hall of Fame. On field play and being the best of your era at your position however do. He is a Hall of Famer and even troll #1 above knows this. Why else does this troll constantly try to cause controversy. Because troll #1 has no clue about sports. London Fletcher??? Dude played a long time that is all.

  8. i remember watching the first MNF game of his career on opening night in his rookie season because i was in college, watching him fly across the field you knew he would be special, first ballot HOF

  9. The NFL ain’t stupid they know these guys can walk away because the NFL has made them rich beyond their dreams be prepared for smarter contract from the owners !

  10. Shame, shame, shame, if you’d played a little longer you coulda been an HOF’r.
    Now not many besides 49ers fans and historian types are gonna remember you.

  11. Patrick Willis doesn’t have to come back, you don’t want to hurt that foot anymore because if it hurts even more, what if he needs to wheelchair or cane everywhere he goes. 30 years seem young but if he feels like his feet can’t last a couple of years, just do what’s best and let Navarro Bowman take over as the new leader of the team.

  12. Patrick played at such a high level of play every season. Sad to see his career cut short with such a severe toe issue.

  13. Patrick Wilis is my favorite ILB ever. Ran the forty faster than a lot of DBs and receivers. He always brought his A game. What more could you want from a backer?

  14. Toe injuries can be extremely painful. Turf toe has ended quite a few careers. If that is in fact what he had.

  15. I happened to stumble across his espn 360 interview and watched it. this guy is a real warrior and a very smart young man. the only thing i do not like with his retiring is he is a tremendous ambassador for the nfl. how long did he play and was ALL-PRO for 5 years ? good luck pat. enjoy your life.

  16. You were a class act on and off the feild…a joy to watch every sunday to us niner fans and every other true football fans out there…i know your off to bigger and greater things…the love and passion you had for this game was tremendous so i know you obviously had a higher calling…i will always love you pat you accomplished more in an 8 year career than most hall of famers accomplish in a 12 year career…even if you dont make it to the hall you will always be a hall of famer in my mind…so thank you Mr Willis…and God bless…the true definition of a man…and a role model forever for my children

  17. Mr. Willis,

    I believe you, I really do.

    Those were some strong words… but when you said

    “and honestly it’s something that when I had that [toe] surgery, I’ve been talking about my feet for a long time, and people choose to hear what they hear. Sometimes people hear something that they just brush right off because to them it doesn’t really resonate…”

    You need to keep in mind Mr. Willis, that when you had that toe surgery, YOU also SAID the following…

    “I promise you when I come back, I’ll be better and stronger than I was before I left,”

    Again, those were also YOUR words… so maybe that’s why it didn’t resonate with some people to use your word…

  18. “…it felt like somebody had lifted a million pounds off my back.”

    That quote really hit me in the feels. Here is a phenomenal athlete, blessed with a talent that so few others will ever have and yet it was also a great burden that forced him to endure constant physical pain. Thanks for the memories Patrick and I’m really happy that you can move on and live pain free. These guys aren’t just football players, they’re human beings.

  19. Dick Butkus Award Winner (2006)
    2× First-team All-American (2005, 2006)
    2× First-team All-SEC (2005, 2006)
    NFC Champion (2012)
    7× Pro Bowl (2007–2013)
    5× First-team All-Pro (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
    Second-team All-Pro (2008)
    2× NFL tackles leader (2007, 2009)
    AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2007)
    3× NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year (2007, 2009, 2010)
    2x San Francisco 49ers MVP (2007, 2009)
    Ranked #27 in the Top 100 Players of 2014
    Ranked #10 in the Top 100 Players of 2013
    Ranked #10 in the Top 100 Players of 2012
    Ranked #23 in the Top 100 Players of 2011
    Other College Awards and Honors

  20. At first, I admit I chuckled because it’s his big toe and feet, rather than his knee or acl or concussions. But it is clearly a big deal and he’s in a lot of pain. You gotta listen to your body, no matter which part is talking.

  21. I’ve lived in Austin, TX since ’97, and seeing Earl Campbell barely be able to walk into a gas station to pay for gas (shuffling like an 80-yr-old at barely 50) just breaks my heart. All of you jackasses who say you’d do anything for more millions just don’t get it. How much money is too much? How many people have to mooch off of your success until you’ve paid the price of a lifetime of pain?

    Let the man retire in peace! Let Borland retire in peace! They owe the Not For Long League nothing. Stop with your judgment until you’ve actually walked, or shuffled, in another man’s shoes.

  22. Spoken like someone that hasn’t had a Seahawks contract put in front of him yet… He probably just wants to play for a winner and that sinking ship in Santa Clara is a decade from fielding a competitive team.

  23. He could have gone to play for Buffalo. I’m sure Rex Ryan would have been willing to talk to him about his feet as much as he’d like.

  24. Sucks that toe injuries took the career away from Patrick Willis and Jack Lambert. Guys that could chew barbed wire.

  25. Return to the team as a coach please. We need Willis’ spirit on the sidelines at least with this train wreck of an off season we are having.

  26. The 49ers are utterly screwed. They have lost so, sooooo much talent that their is no way they can compete with Arizona or SEA in the NFC-West this season. They have lost so much talent both offensively & defensively that their roster needs rebuilt which even under the best of circumstances if they hit on most of their picks will take a minimum 2 years in the draft n FA to fix the damage done but most likely will take 3+ years.

    The 49ers have lost both of their starting CB’s Chris Culliver and Parish Cox, Safety A. Bethea whom they picked up as a Free Agent is in his 30s n declining , FS Eric Reid is above AVG but concussions are a huge concern for him, suffering from multiple his rookie year and again last season. They could end up forcing him to retire early. San Francisco lost a good 3-4DE Ray McDonald forced to fire him for wife beating . It is being widely reported 3-4DE Justin Smith is done and retiring which its time . You can tell the NFL really wears on him in season now, he ranked atleast AVG or better in 9 of the first 10 NFL games , but ranked negatively below AVG in 5 of the last 6 games and thats due to his body being broken down n beaten up when DEC rolls around. He turns 36 this September which in NFL Years is beyond a senior ciizen , its time put him out to pasture. The 49ers made a huge mistake signing Darnell Dockett, 34 , to play DE because he is done as well. Dockett was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the worst 3-4 DE in the NFL , and in 2013 Dockett ranked at 32nd of 45 ranked DE’s & those piss poor rankings were BEFORE HIS devastating injuries. He did have 5.0 sacks in 2013 but those stats are misleading, AZ played the Saints in week 3 of the 2013 season and the Saints starting LG went down injured very early into the game and the Saints had to replace him with Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Tim Lolito, who played at Grand Valley State College a TINY, TINY DII school in the GLIAC conference, never heard of it? Yea me either. Dockett schooled him as would n e 10 year NFL VET DE, and Dockett only 2 sacks in the next 13 weeks of the season. Their is a reason AZ , a team that kept Dockett for 11 seasons, only felt comefortable offering him 2.5 million dollars on a 1 year deal ( and that was deal more out of respect for Dockett by the Cardinals ownder/GM) And thats because Dockett now sucks and no longer can play. Actually Dockett has not been good since 2011, AZ VASTLY OVERPAID him in 2011, 2012, an 2013. San Francisco was utterly retarded to sign the 34 year old DE coming off a serious knee injury/reconstruction to a 2 year 7.25 Million Dollar deal with 2 Million but guaranteed but his entire first year Salary of 3,750,000 (3.75 Million) is basically 100% guaranteed , unless they cut him in camp , which given their issues is unlikely. Dockett now sucks and cant play but SF will find that out shortly. At NT San Francisco is having major issues as well , as NT Glenn Dorsey’s Torn Triceps issue isnt responding well as he is still suffering from significant weakness in his triceps. The 49ers have Quinton Dial at NT and he is nothing special but doesnt suck , ranking as the 29th ranked DT in the NFL with a +2.9 grade. Although with NT Ian Williams coming back they likely move Dial to DE where he wont be as effective, and Williams is a AVG NT solid VS the run but sucks rushing the passer. Outside of him all of SFs other big men up front on the D-Line suck , Like like Demarcus Dobbs who didnt play much but will have to this year who ranked 60th of 88 3-4DE’S ranked last year , and Tony Jerod-Eddie who ranked 85th of 88 3-4DE’s ranked and is just freaking horrible.
    At ILB the 49ers are all kinds of screwed . The best 49ers ILB they have ever had Patrick Willis is retired now . They drafred ILB Chris Borland last year as insurance if Bowman cant come back , and also INS as a future starter if Bowman did come back and Willis retired, well they werent expecting Mr. Borland to also retire after 1 year. He didnt really retire , I think after one year he got a bit scared to play full contact against giant men and straight up quit. Regardless he isnt there anymore. Navorro Bowman was supposed to be back last year at the end of November to Early December. When Bowman came back though n tried to practice on his knee, it severely swelled up & needing surgically drained. They tried 2 more times each times , and each times his knee severely & needed drained. Bowman suffered a horrific , straight horrific knee injury his knee was bent out straight at a 90 degree angle to his right…. Away from his body. Their is a real possibility w/ the kind of athleticism required to be a 3 down ILB he never plays again after that injury. What is assured 100% is if he does make it back , he will never be the same ILB again he was before the injury. Being he tore his ACL/MCL & partially torn PCL , he is going to have issues moving latterally side to side. Their is a ton of question that go with Bowman going forward. Outside of him the 49er’s have NO-ONE at ILB. The only other guy they have is M. Wilhoite who they thought so much of they were just shopping for a 7th round pick before Willis/Borland walked away. Wilhoite isnt all that good , ranking 36th overall w/ a negative -5.1 grade, he cant play the run , he consistently gets ran over which is why he ranks 45th VS the run ,and rushing the passer he ranked 49th out of 60 ILBs ranked. Obviously they are going to need in help. The one thing Wilhoite is decent at is playing out in coverage. I wouldnt be suprised if they signed a 2 down ILB like Brandon Spikes and on 3rd down brought out Wilhoite in passing situations n drafted a 3 down ILB to fix their ILB problem.

    The 49ers defense is in shambles , so is their offense , but this team is built on playing dominant defense , the 49ers no long have that. The NFC-West is going to be a 2 horse race this year between the Arizona Cardinals & SEA Seahawks. Both teams are much better teams this season with the draft still to come than what the 49ers are . I actually think they will end up last in the NFC-W .

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