Does Willis want to remain a 49er?

Patrick Willis just saw Joe Staley – the other young star selected in the first round of the 2007 draft by the 49ers – get a six-year contract extension. But is the linebacker supreme looking for the same kind of sweet deal to remain with the team? "No, not at all," Willis said last week. "I love the 49ers and I love being a part of this organization, but at the end of the day, it's a business."

It would seem that the 49ers – who locked up Staley through the 2017 season with a six-year, $40 million extension a week ago – would like to lock up the centerpiece of their defense and perhaps the best player on the entire team as well, and do it as quickly as possible.

But Willis said he has not been approached by the team, and neither have any of his representatives.

"Not to my knowledge they haven't," Willis said. "I haven't talked to my agent about any of that stuff. If they (have), he hasn't let me know yet."

On the contrary, negotiations for Staley's extension developed during "the whole offseason, really," Staley said. "They came at me pretty early in the offseason. I think it's very important if you are going to build a winning franchise to keep people around here for an extended period of time so you can get used to them. That's how you win games."

That begs the question of, if the 49ers were so diligent during the offseason about making Staley a part of their long-term future, why not take the same approach with Willis, the two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro who already has established himself as one of the elite defenders – and players – in the game?

It probably is just a matter of getting around to it, and there surely is plenty of time to do it, since Willis still has three years remaining on his original five-year, $16.655 million deal he signed as a rookie in 2007.

And, surely, contract negotiations will be a much different type of deal with Willis than Staley, even though Staley is one of the top young offensive tackles in the game.

Willis is in an entirely different category altogether. He's a superstar. He will command top dollar on his next contract, and why would he want to extend now when there will be so many millions out there for him to make when the time comes?

That's probably pretty much what the 49ers are thinking, too. It's difficult to put a value on a young defender who could be headed for all-time greatness.

The 49ers probably would be looking for a relative bargain such as they got with Staley on an extension at this point. Willis' representatives no doubt aren't interested in anything like that. His market value could be astronomical by the time his current contract runs out in 2011. Why extend now when the worth of Willis only figures to climb – if not skyrocket – in the next few years?

As it is, Willis already has been a huge value bargain for the 49ers. His base salary this season is only $500,000, though he'll pick up a roster bonus of $2.05 million that was written into his rookie contract.

The No. 11 overall selection in 2007, Willis – the 2007 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the league's leading tackler as a rookie and second-leading tackler last year – obviously already has grown out of his rookie contract, considering what he has contributed to the team.

The 49ers would reflect that in a contract extension, and with the team's current largesse of salary-cap space – not to mention the team's new philosophy of locking up its core younger players for the future – it would behoove the Niners to address locking up Willis sooner rather than later.

General manager Scot McCloughan said the 49ers have discussed signing Willis to an extension but no deal is in the works. He recently told 49ers writer John Crumpacker, "Without a doubt, we want him here. He put himself in a situation that's very good for him. He's such a good player, it's difficult (to get an extension done). It's got to be a win-win for both parties. We'll address Patrick when the time is right."

That doesn't figure to happen this year, and that seems fine with Willis, who already is focusing on the 2009 season and not much beyond that.

"I'm really not thinking about that right now," he said. "I still have some more time on this contract, and right now it's just about playing ball and winning.

"I love the 49ers and I love being a part of this organization, but at the end of the day, it's a business and I still understand that. I still have three years left on this contract, including this season, and I'm just going to take them one year at a time and see what happens."

Does that sound like a young superstar who wants to remain with the 49ers? Stay tuned.


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