San Francisco 49ers: Why Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman Are a Special Tandem

Phil GCorrespondent IJune 20, 2013

Oct 7, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers linebackers NaVorro Bowman (53) and Patrick Willis (52) react after a tackle in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Bills 45-3. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of pure talent, the San Francisco 49ers stand above all in the NFL. They have the balance on both offense and defense that makes coaches not named Jim Harbaugh salivate at the mouth. 

Usually in the NFL, you have one or the other. Either you are explosive offensively and deficient on defense, or vice versa.

Of course, there are exceptions; just look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders

Talent, while sought, is not the end-all, be-all. We can look at the "dream team," with the Philadelphia Eagles as the perfect example. It takes hard work, dedication, heart, passion and drive for talent to truly shine. 

All of the above epitomizes what the 49ers have in both Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. 

The linebacker position is something teams gloss over in today's NFL. They're not commodities like in years past. More than anything, it seems teams feel that linebackers, not counting rush 'backers, are replaceable. 

Not in San Francisco, though. 

After shelling out nearly $54 million to Pro Bowl MLB Patrick Willis, GM Trent Baalke decided that NaVorro Bowman was worth almost as much. Baalke signed Bowman to a contract worth nearly $47 million. 

How many teams can say they have two MLBs making a combined 100 million? Of course, we have to account for the fact that the 49ers play in a 3-4 defense which requires two inside linebackers, but still, that's a lot of dough. 

The money commitment is rather steep, especially for a team boasting Pro Bowl talent at other defensive positions, but it's worth every dime when you watch these two linebackers play. 

Both guys can cover at a high level, tackle (both downhill and sideline-to-sideline) and diagram plays. Combine that with an extreme work ethic and supreme confidence, and you have a special paring at ILB. 

In particular, Willis has already distinguished himself as the best MLB in the league for the past five seasons. Of course, Willis was expected to be good. When you're selected 11th overall in the first round, teams want a 10-12-year type of player. Its pretty clear Willis has exceeded expectations and then some. 

For Bowman, his journey was a bit different. While Willis went in the first round, his compadre, Bowman, was selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft. 

Bowman was originally slotted to play OLB, but he eventually moved to ILB and flourished at his new role. 

As he gained more playing time, opposing offensive players couldn't tell the difference between Willis (No. 52) and Bowman (No. 53). Both guys possessed all-around games. It wasn't one guy covering for the other's weaknesses. Rather, both players seem to make each other better. 

Weaknesses? Tell me if you can find any. 

I haven't seen a dominant duo suit up for an NFL franchise since Brain Urlacher and Lance Briggs did it for the Chicago Bears in the last decade. In my humble opinion, I believe both Willis and Bowman will surpass this dominant Bears duo. 

In this modern age, for one team to have two of the best players at one position seems rather impossible. But for the 49ers, this unlikely scenario has become a reality.