Fred Warner's all-around play helped earn him the richest contract ever given to an off-ball linebacker in the NFL.
Now that he got that reward he wants to upgrade one specific element to his game by improving his ability as a blitzer.
“That is for sure a point of emphasis going into this season,” Warner said Thursday after officially signing his five-year, $95 million extension with the San Francisco 49ers.
“I know I’ll have more opportunities in the pass-rushing game and forcing fumbles. That is something I take great pride in. It’s something I kind of started to develop after my first year and have continued to work on trying to implement different drills and stuff to just to keep it on my mind and keep that muscle memory when I’m out there.”
Warner has seen his use as a blitzer increase each year and expects even more this season under new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
Warner more than doubled his blitz rate last season by rushing the passer 79 times, delivering 21 pressures and one sack, according to game-tracking data from SportsInfo Solutions.
He also thrived in coverage and against the run. The 54% completion rate he allowed last season when targeted as the nearest defender ranked the best in the NFL among the linebackers targeted at least 20 times, according to NFL NextGen stats.
In three seasons, Warner has 21 passes defensed, three interceptions, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 15 tackles for loss and four sacks.
That helped him earn the contract that topped the $18 million a year average for Seattle’s Bobby Wagner, which had been the top at the position.
“I think that was just something that happened organically through the process,” Warner said. “The only thing I wanted was to obviously be a Niner for a long time and to and to get what I deserved. We did both of those things. It just happened to be where we moved the needle in the right direction for the rest of the inside linebackers in the league.”
Locking up Warner with a long-term deal was one of the key tasks for San Francisco before the start of training camp next week.
Warner also wanted to get the deal done so he could focus on the 2021 season.
“I think I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some pressure,” he said. “I think everyone handled the situation really flawlessly. It was it was a great experience. It was something that I was hoping to be done before training camp so I could just focus on on the season and being my best self and not having to worry about all that stuff. I trusted in my agent and and everyone who was involved in the deal. I’m just happy it’s over.”
This contract comes on the heels of the $75 million, five-year contract extension that star tight end George Kittle got last summer as the Niners do their best to keep their young core players. They were unable to do that with defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who was traded for a first-round pick to Indianapolis in 2020 instead.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said during the offseason program that he planned to have Warner around “forever” and this new deal helps achieve that goal.
The former third-round pick has developed into one of the top all-around linebackers in the league after being drafted in the third round in 2018.
Warner made an immediate impact, starting all 48 games since entering the league. He helped San Francisco make it to the Super Bowl in his second season and then earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2020.
“We’re extremely excited to have completed a long-term contract extension with Fred prior to the start of training camp,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “Fred brings the type of leadership and energy every day that our defense and team feeds off. He earned this extension through hard work, discipline, and the professional way he goes about his business.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL