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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
How Willis' deal affects the AFC West

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

The blockbuster contract extension San Francisco gave Patrick Willis will be duly noted in Denver and San Diego.

Merriman
Merriman
Dumervil
Dumervil
The 49ers extended the contract of Willis
for five years. The tackling machine will make $50 million with $29 million guaranteed.

AFC West standout linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Shawne Merriman are also looking for new deals. Both players are restricted free agents who have not yet signed their 2010 tenders. Still, neither player is likely going anywhere in 2010.

But both will want major deals. It's doubtful either player will get what Willis scored. Still, Willis’ contract will likely increase the price tag of the league’s better linebackers.

Earlier this spring, Denver coach Josh McDaniels acknowledged the importance of Dumervil and expressed an interest in keeping Dumervil. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dumervil is given a huge deal at some point before he is set to become an unrestricted free agent next winter.

Dumervil flourished in the 3-4 defense in Denver last season. Dumervil, 26, led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009. He has 43 sacks in four NFL seasons.

Merriman, 25, will also likely get a big deal in the next year. I don’t expect San Diego to give him a big contract before this season. I think San Diego wants to see Merriman make continued progress from his 2008 knee surgery. If the Chargers don’t want to pay Merriman by 2011, some team will.

Top-flight linebackers are expensive. The price tag went up Tuesday with Willis’ deal.