San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis is expected to announce his retirement from the NFL on March 10, per multiple reports.
Patrick Willis is retiring from the NFL.
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Yahoo! Sports' Rand Getlin first reported the news on March 9, citing a league source. Willis, who suited up in just six games for the San Francisco 49ers last season due to a toe injury, is just 30 years old.
Back in Nov. 2014, Willis told SFGate.com's Eric Branch the toe injury's history dates back several years and has affected his performance on the field. He opted for season-ending surgery because he feared not doing so would have long-term repercussions on his football career:
"When I hurt (it) in the (St. Louis) Rams game, it kind of made me a little nervous because I knew what I had been feeling all these years. I felt like the Lord was talking to me, I felt like he finally said the time is now...
"I feel like I have five or six more great years of football left in my body, but unfortunately, this toe was telling me otherwise. That was the only thing that was weighing on my mind for a while now."
A league source also told USA Today's Jim Corbett on Monday about Willis' impending retirement. The turn of events is a huge blow to the 49ers' defense, as defensive lineman Justin Smith told The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows on Monday he's also thinking about retiring.
He said,"I'm going to decide by next week probably. So you'll know by then. It's not 100 percent."
Barrows says Willis missed just six games during his first seven NFL seasons due to a broken hand, a hamstring injury and a groin strain.
CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maioco's sources tell him Willis and Smith will announce their retirement within the week. Maioco says Smith has been thinking about stepping away from the game for the past several years now. Smith is entering the last year of a three-year, $17.1 million contract.
For his part, new 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula told Maioco during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last month he will respect whatever Smith's decision will be:
"Out of respect to Justin, I've told him, I will not try to talk him into anything. And I will not try to talk him out of anything. He has earned the right to make his decision on his terms. We said that for the last three or four years."
Maioco notes San Francisco aims to compensate for Smith's possible departure when it signed former Arizona Cardinals defenseman Darnell Dockett last week. The possible retirement of Willis and Smith coincides with former head coach Jim Harbaugh going to the Michigan Wolverines and running back Frank Gore leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles, per Corbett.
According to ESPN, Willis, the 11th overall pick of the 2007 NFL draft out of Ole Miss, was an integral part of a 49ers team that reached three straight NFC Championship Games from 2011-13. He made the Pro Bowl selection during the first seven years of his eight-year stint with San Francisco. Only the New York Giants' Lawrence Taylor (10) and the late Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman/linebacker Derrick Thomas (nine) had a longer streak than Willis since the NFL's 1970 merger.
As for Smith, he played for the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers during his 14-year NFL career. He went to five Pro Bowls and amassed 87 sacks in 221 career regular-season games, per ESPN.
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