Fred Warner is one of the top linebackers in the NFL.
While this was well known to those who follow the 49ers, it wasn’t until 2020 that Warner’s play finally received the notoriety that it deserved as he was named AP First Team All-Pro for the first time in his career.
Joining Warner on list at linebacker were Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks and Darious Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts. Those names are interesting not only because they are included among the best linebackers in the NFL, they also represent the potential conundrum the 49ers find themselves in this offseason.
Leonard and Warner entered the NFL in 2018 and are headed into the final year of their rookie contracts, the perfect time for them to use their leverage for a new deal. Wagner, the veteran of the group, will likely be the baseline that both will use when sitting down to the negotiating table at an average annual value of $18 million.
It will be interesting to see how the 49ers handle a possible contract extension for Warner. Last offseason the 49ers chose to move on from DeForest Buckner, trading the Pro Bowl defensive tackle to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft instead of extending his contract. Buckner would go on to sign an extension with Indianapolis that was reported as a 4 year, $84 million. When the details of the deal came out, Buckner wasn’t going to cost the Colts $21 million in new money per year. The announced deal was new money added to the end of Buckner’s rookie contract, a slight change that meant the annual average value was just over $19 million per year. Buckner would go on to be named to the AP All-Pro First Team, more than justifying being the second highest paid defensive tackle in the league.
Just like Buckner, Warner has performed at a high level from the moment he was selected in the third round of the 2018 draft. Warner has led the 49ers in tackles all three years of his career, and has improved is coverage skills to the point that it is almost like the defense has another defensive back on the field instead of a linebacker. Warner’s stellar play has been matched by his ability to lead the defense, and in 2020 the 49ers players voted for him to be among the team captains for the first time.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan showed last year that they weren’t afraid to move a team leader and one of the best players on the defense. Do the 49ers value the inside linebacker position enough to give Warner a contract in the range of what they declined for DeForest Buckner, or will they decide for the second time in as many years that $19 million per year is too much and move Warner for a draft pick? We should know the answer to this by April 29, the first day of the 2021 NFL Draft.