The 49ers announced on Tuesday that Patrick Willis is in fact retiring, marking the end of one of the best runs ever done by a middle linebacker to start his NFL career.
Willis, drafted 11th overall out of Ole Miss in 2007, was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven NFL seasons. The only defensive players since the league's 1970 merger with longer streaks to start their careers were hall-of-famers Lawrence Taylor (10) and Derrick Thomas (nine).
If you're one that doesn't acknowledge Pro-Bowl berths, look no further than to his five First-team All-Pro nominations. Even Bengals fans who vehemently despise the 49ers cannot call themselves football fans without being a fan of what Willis was as a player and as a person.
The San Francisco 49ers' offseason overhaul continues.
Two of the 49ers' best players of the past seven years are both retiring, according to Pro Football Talk. All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis and Pro Bowl defensive lineman Justin Smith are both set to retire this offseason, and both will do so while still playing at a pretty high level.
Willis only played six games and suffered a toe injury that required season-ending surgery in 2014, but at age 30, he should still have plenty left in the tank. As with Smith, his retirement has been speculated the entire offseason, and it appears it's now a done deal:
Willis is the surprise that was referred to earlier today, and it's a major one. Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reports Willis is strongly considering retirement. As PFT hears it, it's a done deal, with the formal announcement coming Tuesday.
Per multiple league sources, Smith also is done — although that's not a surprise. The 14-year veteran joined the 49ers as a free agent in 2008, and he had been in many respects the cornerstone of the defense.
After Willis was selected with the No. 11 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, he became a lynchpin for the 49ers defense, and was named a first-team All-Pro as a rookie. He earned All-Pro honors in five of his first six NFL seasons and signed a five-year, $50 million extension in 2010 that runs through the 2016 NFL season.
Willis has played in 112 career games with the 49ers, with 950 tackles, 20.5 sacks, eight interceptions and 16 forced fumbles.
As for Smith, at 35, he has accomplished a lot in his career with both the 49ers and Bengals. He was drafted by the Bengals in first round (fourth overall) of the 2001 NFL draft out of Missouri.
Smith played in Cincinnati for seven seasons until March 1, 2008, when he signed a six-year, $45 million deal with the 49ers. Smith was selected for five consecutive Pro Bowls from 2009 to 2013, and in 2011 and 2012, was named to the AP All-Pro team.
If this is it for Smith, he finishes his career with 880 tackles (613 solo), 87 sacks and 17 forced fumbles.