Patrick Willis' contract extension with the 49ers leaves the NFC West with four 2010 Pro Bowl players headed toward potential free agency after the 2010 or 2011 seasons.
A quick look at their situations:
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals. Deal expires after the 2011 season. Fitzgerald is already earning $10 million per year as part of the deal he signed before the 2008 season. It's easy to forget Fitzgerald's contract situation because the final year of his deal, 2012, is a voidable year. The deal also contains a no-trade clause while preventing the Cardinals from naming Fitzgerald their franchise or transition player. Arizona might be wise to get something done with Fitzgerald before the 2011 season.
Darnell Dockett, DE, Cardinals. Deal expires after the 2011 season. Dockett's contract pays him $7.75 million over the next two seasons. While Dockett plays end in the Cardinals' 3-4 scheme, the NFL considers him a defensive tackle, as reflected in Pro Bowl balloting. The distinction could come into play if the Cardinals decide to name Dockett their franchise player. The sense I get dovetails with the one Darren Urban of azcardinals.com described. Dockett should get a long-term deal as long as he keeps playing at a high level.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers. Deal expires after the 2010 season. Davis became a first-team Pro Bowl choice last season when the 49ers made him a bigger part of the passing game. Davis has always been a hard worker. He has shown greater self-control on the field. The franchise-player value for tight ends would secure Davis at a relative bargain price if the 49ers cannot work out a long-term deal. The team has been proactive in extending contracts for its best young players, however.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers. Deal expires after the 2011 season. Gore will be 29 years old heading into the 2012 season. Running backs tend to wind down around age 30. A long-term extension for Gore well past age 30 wouldn't make much sense.
The 49ers' Dashon Goldson is among a group of less-accomplished rising starters approaching contract years. More on that group at another time.