SANTA CLARA – Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman arguably had already passed Patrick Willis’ on-field production the last time the 49ers had serious contract negotiations with him.
But in settling for a contract in 2012 that averaged approximately $9 million a year, Bowman said he was cognizant of Willis’ standing on the team. Willis’ final deal with the 49ers averaged $10 million annually.
“Out of respect for Pat, I took a little bit less and understood this was his team at the time,” Bowman said on Thursday.
On Wednesday evening, Bowman and the 49ers agreed to a four contract extension through the 2022 season that pays the four-time first-team All-Pro an average of $11 million. Bowman’s previous deal ran through the 2018 season.
“For me asking for the deal, they understood why,” Bowman said. “I knew it wasn’t a popular thing to do with three years left. But it’s basically about being fair and how good of an organization they are and honorable to their players and the work I put in.”
Bowman said he never considered the options of skipping the offseason program or holding out of training camp to attempt to leverage the 49ers for a new contract. Bowman said he believes he has given the blue print for others to follow to get a new contract.
“You basically have to crawl before you can walk and understand the guys that do make the big money in this league work hard and had to wait their time to get to that point,” Bowman said. “It’s about motivating guys. Several guys walked up to me and said this is motivation for them.”
The 49ers have not been big players in free agency. The team went through most of the offseason with nearly $50 million in cap space.
[MAIOCCO: Baalke promises 49ers will increase spending]
Part of the 49ers’ design, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said, is to reward their own players with extensions – rather than overspend to bring in players from outside the organization. Bowman said he agrees with that approach.
“I think the upstairs people understand that,” Bowman said. “I think that’s the reason we didn’t go out and get certain guys. Of course, we could’ve gotten some better players that’s already known.
“But it’s about the morale of the team. And you as a team and an organization, trusting your players and trusting that your team will get better and get on the same page and not bring a guy in who we don’t know and become the guy who’s making the most money. I don’t think that’s fair, and I think they handled that situation professionally.”