49Ers’ Fred Warner Becomes Highest-Paid Linebacker With Five-Year Contract Extension

By Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
July 24, 2021 Updated: July 24, 2021

By Cam Inman
From Mercury News

Fred Warner absolutely should pan out as the 49ers’ latest, highly paid linebacker. Which would be a welcome change.

Malcolm Smith, Reuben Foster and Kwon Alexander sure didn’t, not after this current regime anted up for them in 2017, ’18 and ’19, respectively.

Warner’s first three seasons earned him not only a raise but a market-setting salary among linebackers. He’s agreed to a five-year, $95 million contract extension with $40.5 million guaranteed, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo first reported.

Warner and all 49ers are slated to report for training camp July 27. The 49ers and Warner’s agent have yet to publicly confirm the deal.

Warner is the prototype of a modern-day linebacker, as opposed to the old-school version known for punishing hits when looser rules allowed them.

He has range, he’s instinctive, he’s intelligent, he’s a sure tackler and he’s an organically grown captain. He’s channeling 49ers’ predecessors Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman more so than the aforementioned crop of washouts this current 49ers brass overpaid.

Warner arrived in 2018 as a third-round draft pick—as well as shrewd insurance for Foster, who proved unreliable on and off the field.

“All-Pro Fred” became a grassroots nickname bestowed upon him by teammates until it became a realized honor last season, when injuries took down defenders (and offensive stars) all around Warner.

A potential new nickname: Big Bread Fred, as tweeted by former 49ers teammate Trent Taylor in congratulating Warner.

So where does he go from here? He’s now being paid like a Pro Bowler, and the BYU product is an exemplary pro, on and off the field.

“Overall, I want to separate myself, being more of a game-changer, being able to attack the football, work on my tackling in the box, getting my feet in the ground and working on my burst in and out of breaks,” Warner answered in May on where he must improve. “Little details are what really matter now.”

Critical this season is his connection to DeMeco Ryans, who ascends to the defensive coordinator role after three years as the linebackers’ coach.

Ryans, the 2006 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as a Houston Texans linebacker, played four seasons before landing a healthy contract extension (Six years, $48 million). He tore his left Achilles the ensuing 2010 season, and, after he tore his right Achilles in 2014 as a Philadelphia Eagles leader, his 10-year career was soon done.

“Me and Meek, we’ve gone through a lot together in a short time,” Warner said two months ago.

Warner’s durability is ideal—and so rare among recent 49ers teams—so far.

He’s started every game since debuting in the 2018 opener in Minnesota with Brock Coyle as the other starting linebacker.

“He’s the first guy to break down the huddle. He’s the first guy on the field. You love to see that,” tight end George Kittle said at OTAs.

Kittle was last summer’s homegrown recipient of a massive contract extension. He and Warner are their draft gems. More could be coming.

One might be Dre Greenlaw, Warner’s sidekick and the 49ers’ best linebacker tandem since Willis-Bowman. “Big Play Dre” is ascending, too. And Warner is a big part of that.

“We have huge aspirations and goals for this season. I’m really excited about this season we’re going to have,” Warner added in May.

The 49ers, despite a diminished salary cap, have managed to fiscally massage their roster to the tune of signing not only Warner ahead of camp but excelling in free agency, where they re-signing left tackle Trent Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and defensive backs Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, Emmanuel Moseley and Jaquiski Tartt.

More business awaits for the 49ers’ payroll department: draft picks Trey Lance and Trey Sermon have yet to sign their slotted rookie deals.

Warner’s $19 million annual average is the most among NFL linebackers, eclipsing Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner’s $18 million per year mark.

As for the linebacker trio of Smith, Foster and Alexander, none lasted past Year 2 with the 49ers. Collectively, they appeared in 41 games as injuries (and Foster’s off-field issues) limited their contributions. They made a combined $32.1 million of a potential $90 million, with Alexander the only one producing stats (one interception, two forced fumbles, 1 1/2 sacks).

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Tribune News Service
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