Patrick Willis Restructures Contract to Clear Cap Space for Rookie Deals

Ethan GrantAnalyst IApril 26, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers walks off of the field dejected after the Baltimore Ravens won 34-31 during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers star linebacker Patrick Willis realizes how important being able to get rookies into workouts and training camp on time can be for cohesiveness during the regular season.

It should come as no surprise that the team-first Willis has agreed to restructure his current contract to free up money for the Niners' efforts to sign their 2013 NFL draft picks, a move that will reportedly shave $1.2 million off of the 49ers' salary cap.

Per Matt Maiocco of, Willis' choice to take more guaranteed money in signing bonus form puts San Francisco's cap number under the Mendoza line by nearly $2.15 million—the projected number it's going to take to sign this year's rookie class:

Willis agreed to have $1.687 million of his scheduled 2013 base salary of $2.4 million converted to a signing bonus that can be prorated over the final four years of Willis' contract. His new 2013 base salary of $715,000 also becomes fully guaranteed.

Now, the 49ers have $2.15 million in salary cap space, according to a source. That figure is close to the amount the 49ers will need to sign their draft class.

San Francisco traded picks No. 31 and 74 to the Dallas Cowboys for the right to the No. 18 selection on Thursday night, at which they promptly drafted LSU safety Eric Reid.

The Niners will also pick at No. 34, 61 and 93 on Day 2 (second and third rounds).

Willis, one of the team's captains and the best player on one of the NFL's most fearsome defenses, finished with 120 tackles during the regular season—good for tied for 21st in the league during the 2012 season. He also had 29 tackles in three postseason games, including 10 in the Super Bowl XLVII loss to Baltimore.

He and teammate Navarro Bowman were both selected to the Pro Bowl in 2012, marking his sixth-straight selection. Willis was also once again voted as a First-Team All-Pro player last season—his fifth such honor in that category.

The accolades and recognition Willis have received so far in his NFL career are starting to border on legendary status, yet he manages to remain a prime example of what a middle linebacker should look like in the league today.

He was once again one of the first players in the building when voluntary offseason workouts opened up this offseason (h/t Taylor Price of, and leads the NFC defending champions by example both on and off the field.

As Jim Harbaugh, Trent Baalke and the rest of the 49ers' management team prepares to add more talent to this already impressive roster, they can do so with the confidence of cap space to sign these players on time for the 2013 season, with a tip of the cap to a star that helped make it possible.