Extending Fred Warner was an obvious choice for the 49ers.
Two of his three seasons in the league, Warner has played at a high level. In fact, I'd even argue in 2019 that he was already playing at an All Pro caliber level. Even his rookie season was a sweet one.
The best part about extending Warner is it feels like he is only scratching the surface. He is just 24-years old and continues to get better. The chances of him continuing to ascend are looking superb. He is already considered the top, if not one of the top linebackers in the NFL.
If Warner can sustain this level of greatness, will he surpass Patrick Willis as a 49ers great?
I believe he will.
Warner right now is already of the same caliber of player as Willis was. At least, he is from an impact standpoint. Both players were leaders on the defense through their first three seasons in the league, can defend against the run staunchly, and are phenomenal as coverage players. Willis was ahead of his time when it came to coverage as running the ball was such a point of emphasis for teams during his tenure.
But I think Warner will prove himself as the better coverage linebacker, which essentially is all that matters really. It is the same way to look at defensive linemen. They can defend against the run at a high level, but if they are not making much of an impact rushing the passer than they are expendable. That is the money maker after all. The game that was played when Willis was on an absolute tear from 2007 to 2012 has drastically changed. Passing is the name of the game now, which puts Warner in more passing situations. He will get to show off just how superb of a talent he is.
Plus, it helps that he is young, so he has longevity on his side. Because Willis abruptly retired with technically only 8 seasons under his belt, Warner these next five years (thanks to his extension) can etch himself as a 49ers great and potentially even an All-Time great linebacker. Not to mention that Warner is poised to see more playoff appearances than Willis with the way the 49ers build and sustain themselves, so there can be some magical playoff moments for Warner. That is something even Willis himself hopes for with Warner who always has a ton of praise for Warner anytime he is in the spotlight.
Warner is on the right track so far. Ultimately, it is the 49ers who benefit from having such fortune with continued succession of elite linebackers.