Followup: How 49ers did Patrick Willis' deal

The San Francisco 49ers' unexpected contract agreement with linebacker Patrick Willis quietly met NFL approval upon submission to the league.

That stands as a small victory for the 49ers given frustrations teams and especially agents are experiencing in trying to put together long-term deals for elite players. Willis' deal caught people off-guard amid restrictions preventing salaries from increasing by more than 30 percent from year to year.

How could the 49ers get the deal done? Probably through a combination of signing bonus and salary escalators, it seemed.

The contract is on file with the NFL and NFLPA, meaning lots of people have seen the terms. I've spoken with some of those people and can pass along a few highlights and observations:

  • The deal includes a $15.5 million signing bonus and base salaries ranging between nearly $1.1 million and $4 million. The bonus amount was significant enough for Willis to accept some risk associated with money later in the deal that is not quite guaranteed.

  • The deal includes a $4.8 million bonus in 2011. This bonus triggers changes to the deal and, like the $15.5 million bonus, helps the 49ers get around the 30 percent rule limiting year-to-year salary increases.

  • The salaries for 2014, 2015 and 2016 include escalators that were critical to getting the deal done.

I've had this item saved for several days now and was hoping to add observations as time permitted, but that is no longer necessary now that former Redskins cap expert J.I. Halsell has broken down details of the contract and explained them in depth.