Patrick Willis is reportedly retiring from the NFL, just a few months after turning 30 years old. This attributes it to a “religious awakening of sorts,” and Willis did miss 10 games last year.
That’s more games than he missed the previous seven seasons combined, each of which ended in a pro bowl selection for Willis.
Time flies in the NFL, and in life. Not quite five years ago, I wasn’t writing for this site, and wrote my first big piece for the USA Today Pro Football 2010 Preview Magazine. The piece, entitled “In the Middle of Greatness — But For How Long?” isn’t even available online for review. In it, I looked at the latest generation of star middle linebackers: Patrick Willis, Jon Beason, and DeMeco Ryans, who combined for 160 starts, 7 pro bowls, 3 first team all-pro selections, and 3 second team selections before that 2010 season.
The piece explored how the middle linebacker position–while it doesn’t get the acclaim and notoriety for short careers–had fame as fleeting, if not moreso, as a position like running back. Here’s every inside linebacker since the merger who made at least two pro bowls before their 26th birthday, and the age the last time they started 8 games (Luke Kuechly and Navorro Bowman not included, other active players denoted with “+”)
As for Willis, I think he gets in easily even if he never plays a down again, based only on his career through age 28. He was selected first team all-pro five times. That only trails Lawrence Taylor, Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary, Jack Ham, Junior Seau, and Jack Lambert at linebacker since the merger. Do we really need 5 years of being an average or injured player to cement that? Willis was the best middle linebacker of his generation, and it’s a rough position. He’s done enough.