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DeMeco Ryans contract extension and 49ers LB Patrick Willis

Yesterday, Adam Schefter reported that Houston Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans signed a contract extension that totaled 6 years and $48 million. Certainly a sizable chunk of change for a very solid linebacker who just finished his fourth season in the league.

I bring this up for the same reasons I mentioned Brent Celek's 6-year extension last December. When players sign contracts in any professional sport, agents will quickly use those contracts to compare against their own client. Given that Patrick Willis is closing in on free agency in 2011, this is something we have to keep in mind.

It's not a perfect comparison given different defensive styles and whatnot, but it's something with which we can work. Ryans plays the middle linebacker role in the Texans 4-3 and finished with 123 total tackles, 1 sack, 2 pass deflections, and 1 fumble recovery. Some other impressive middle/inside linebackers out there include (any contracts come from Rotoworld):

Barrett Ruud: Middle linebacker for the Buccaneers who is less than pleased he has not received a long term deal yet (He's played five seasons in the league. Ruud finished tied for second with 142 tackles, 7 pass deflections, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble.

Jon Beason: Middle linebacker for the Panthers who was drafted the same year as Bamm Bamm, later in the first round. Beason finished tied with Ruud and London Fletcher for second behind Willis with 142 total tackles. He also had 3 sacks, 7 pass deflections, 3 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Oh, and he replaced Willis in the Pro Bowl after Willis' injury.

Ray Lewis: Lewis signed a 3-year contract extension this time last year worth $22 million that was added on to his previous deal, locking him up with the Ravens through 2015. It's probably safe to say Lewis will be retired before this contract is up. I include it because given his talents, the per year dollar figure is getting up there in value. Not quite DeMeco Ryans dollar figure, but still a number worth considering.

David Harris: Another member of Willis' draft class of 2007, Harris was a second round pick and will actually be a free agent after this coming season.  He had arguably the best season of his short career, finishing 9th with 127 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Willis will certainly get a bigger contract than Harris, but if he signs a long-term deal, it will certainly be worth considering.

These are just a few of the top linebackers in the league. Several of them are either still under rookie contracts, or dealing with the bane that is the RFA existence. When we did the TE comparison after Brent Celek's extension, it was a lot easier to compare because the top tight ends had signed long term deals. The same is not quite so true of middle/inside linebackers.

However, it's safe to say DeMeco Ryans is basically below the lowest end of a potential Bamm Bamm extension. Ryans is a great linebacker, but he's not Patrick Willis. Really, few players are Patrick Willis, which is something he'll be able to cash in on when the time is right. At this point, are there any predictions on what kind of dollars and years we might be talking about? Are there any other players we should be comparing?