The 49ers have known for quite a while that Justin Smith’s days as a pro football player may be over.
But now it appears the team may also be losing longtime Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis – a shocking development.
Reports by Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group early Monday morning, Yahoo Sports and CSN Bay Area, citing sources, reported that the team is expecting that Willis, 30, will soon announce his retirement.
Willis played just six games in 2014 because of a toe injury, but he never mentioned publicly that he was considering retirement. The five-time All-Pro just turned 30 in January, and he spoke late in the season of being eager to come back strong in 2015.
“I feel like I have five or six more great years of football left in my body,” Willis said in November, according to Inman. “I have to think about the big picture. They might miss me for a little bit, but I promise you, when I come back I’ll be better and stronger than I was before I left.”
The return of Willis and NaVorro Bowman – who missed all of last season – was expected. The two rank as the likely No. 1 combination of 3-4 inside linebackers in the NFL. And, Willis was due to make $7.0.65 million in 2015, according to Inman.
If Willis does indeed retire, that will open up a spot for Chris Borland, who was a revelation as a rookie in 2014.
Willis' departure from the 49ers would be the most shocking of many offseson changes on the team, following the loss of head coach Jim Harbaugh, running back Frank Gore and perhaps Smith and wideout Michael Crabtree.
Defensive lineman Justin Smith is also expected to retire, with both Smith's and Willis' announcements anticipated early this week, sources told CSN Bay Area.