49ers Extend LB Willis

In their most prescient off-season move to date, the 49ers have signed All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis to a five-year, $50 million contract extension that will make him the highest paid inside 'backer in the NFL. Though he had two years left on his rookie year, it's smart for the team to take care of Willis now, since they have no idea what the cap situation will be like in the league in 2011.

"I'm just so thankful that Pat got done," said coach Mike Singletary. "We'll just continue to go down the road and do what we do. I think the most important message that management sent today is for those guys that go out there and perform, we're going to take care of our guys. Pat is a tremendous example of that."

Willis, who was the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007 and is a two-time All Pro, became the first 49ers defender since Hall-of-Fame safety Ronnie Lott to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. He led the league with 152 tackles last year and also had four sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

"It means a lot," he said. "It shows that they really wanted me here. It shows what they want and what I want are the same things and that's to win, to embody a great organization, to get this organization back to where it used to be and even better."

For anyone concerned that a new contract will make Willis complacent or somewhat less ferocious, the 49ers captain insists that those fears are misplaced. "I feel like what I've done the last three years is only the tip of the iceberg," he said.

"People think they've seen the best I've had to offer and they haven't by far. We can go in there right now and put on film and coach can show you and I can see myself where, 'Pat, you need to get better in this area, you have to get better in this. You have to be able to see that dig route when you see one route come in front of you this way.' There so much more improvement in my game that I have to get to and I'm willing to work every day to get to that point, but the best is yet to be seen, by myself or my teammates or this team in general."

Singletary meanwhile, is hopeful that the change in status will encourage fans (and the media) to look at Willis in his own right, instead of always comparing him to his coach. "I think we're two totally different kinds of guys," he explained. "The thing that I see in him is what all great linebackers have, and that is the passion to make every play. That is the one common denominator in any great linebacker."

Now, thanks to his new deal, the greatest linebacker in the league will be here a long while.

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