San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis making the decision to call it a career and retire is one of the most significant pieces of news we'll get in a long time. It's the end of an era -- an era in which the 49ers didn't find a great deal of success, but always got 100 percent from one of the very best players in the league. Nobody can deny how huge of an impact Willis had on the 49ers and just how good he was on the field.
That said, this isn't a death sentence for the 49ers. You might be able to make an argument that everything that's happened this offseason is a death sentence, but we're here to talk about this move itself. As an isolated statement, it's rough: Willis, a seven-time Pro Bowler and first-round pick by the 49ers in 2007, is set to retire.
When you look at his stats over the years, it's also easy to lose hope going forward. Willis has put up 950 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, eight interceptions and 53 pass breakups in 112 games with the 49ers.
It's not easy seeing a player like this go, given how much he's meant but what about the 49ers on the field in 2015-16? One thing that's going to be overlooked as the offseason nears its end and the 49ers find their way onto the field: this team is so talented and deep at the position that this move affects them less than it would any other team in the NFL.
Again, not to cheapen what Willis did or anything, but NaVorro Bowman was already on that level and having the pair of them was something of an embarrassment of riches. Then when both went down to injury in 2014, replacements Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland, two guys with little experience, the 49ers didn't suffer all that much.
Wilhoite and Borland are missing the extra 10 percent or so that elevate Bowman and Willis beyond "great" to "elite." There might even be an extra 10 percent beyond that which only legendary players have, and I think Willis definitely had it. Wilhoite and Borland couldn't take quite as perfect angles as Willis and Bowman. They didn't make quite as many big plays. But they were both above average, and just by going out there, playing, and fending off the "49ers struggle without Willis, Bowman" headlines, they were immensely successful.
I don't know how Borland will hold up as a starter over the course of a full season, and I don't know if Wilhoite might be a better option in some situations. My point is that the 49ers are well-prepared for this, no matter how much it might hurt in your gut and how important Willis was to this team. Right now, the focus should be on ensuring Bowman is 100 percent and ready to take on the leading role in this defense.
It should be interesting to see how things work out with Borland and Wilhoite, and whether or not the 49ers feel like they need to bring in another inside linebacker or if they feel comfortable with a guy like Nick Moody being that high up on the depth chart. We'll also need to address the trade rumors for Michael Wilhoite and how long the 49ers have known this was in the works, but that's a discussion for a different day.