The consensus for a while now has been that three-time Pro Bowl ILB Patrick Willis, who agreed to a five-year contract extension worth up to $50 million Tuesday, is by far the Niners' best player. But will Willis ever be the undisputed face of the Niners' franchise the same way Ray Lewis — the player to whom he has been most frequently compared — is with the Ravens?
"Probably not," said one longtime daily observer of Willis, whose new deal hardly came as a surprise to those close to the team. "Patrick has got amazing playing ability and is such an admirable guy, having come from really humble beginnings. But he just doesn't have the same kind of magnetism as Lewis or (former Niners defensive centerpiece) Ronnie Lott.
"And another thing is that, unlike in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, offense is the big thing with the Niners. Always has been. But Willis does set the tone for so much of what the team does, and his new deal sends a strong message to the rest of the team that if you work hard, you will get compensated."
On a team with a lot of natural leaders such as Justin Smith, Shawntae Spencer, Eric Heitmann, Joe Staley and Vernon Davis, Willis was asked if his contract extension makes him feel as though he should become the Niners' vocal leader, like Lewis in Baltimore. "I feel like a lot of people lead in different ways," Willis said. "There's a lot of different leaders, whether it's vocal, whether it's physical, but I've always been the type of person — I won't ask you to do something that I can't do. I won't get on you for something that I won't do myself. I will speak at times, when it's necessary, but I don't believe in talking just because you can."
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