Fred Warner is more important to SF 49ers with DC DeMeco Ryans
By Peter Panacy
First-team All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner was already an essential part of the SF 49ers defense over the last three seasons.
But in the wake of the Niners losing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to the NY Jets’ head-coaching vacancy, Warner’s importance will only grow even more.
Warner already grew into one of the game’s top linebackers under the tutelage of Saleh, who was also a linebackers coach way back before he took over San Francisco’s defensive coordinator job back in 2017.
Yet Saleh never actually played the game, whereas the SF 49ers’ replacement for him on the staff, former Niners linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans, carved out a successful 10-year career as a linebacker with the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles.
If anything, that already-budding relationship will help Warner thrive even more.
San Francisco’s promotion of Ryans from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator was a brilliant move. Not only did Ryans earn some lofty praise from some former SF 49ers alumni as a would-be replacement for Saleh before the latter left, but Warner also highlighted his relationship with Ryans at the very end of the team’s 2020 campaign.
Warner’s statement on Ryans, per ESPN’s Nick Wagoner:
"He’s so passionate about what he does. It’s not a mystery why he was so successful in the NFL. He’s such a smart mind, and him and Saleh are very similar in that way where they’re both really smart and know exactly what they want. The fact that DeMeco did play linebacker, that’s exactly how he’s going to coach. He’s going to coach you hard and aggressive and expect a lot out of you because he was able to do that when he played."
In turn, one might expect Ryans to turn to Warner, the SF 49ers defense’s unquestioned captain, even more in 2021 with a number of looming roster changes awaiting this offseason.
SF 49ers must extend Fred Warner now more than ever before
Warner is eligible for a contract extension in 2021 after three years now complete on his rookie deal.
One of the big comparisons many an NFL pundit has made to Warner is Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, whose contact worth $18 million annually ranks highest at the position.
Warner and his agent likely understand the fiscal difficulties both the Niners and the rest of the league will face in 2021, namely the salary cap potentially dropping as low as $176 million. But it’s also possible Warner refuses to set foot on the field until a new deal is reached.
It isn’t as if he failed to earn it.
Warner, who just turned 24 years old, is essentially at the same level of Wagner, who’s already 30 years old. As such, it’s highly possible the former resets the market for top-level linebackers this offseason. While the prospects for San Francisco extending Warner this offseason were already strong, the fact Ryans will rely heavily on Warner to maintain the team’s defensive prowess only serves to expedite the procedure.
Simply put, the SF 49ers just witnessed Warner’s value to the team increase dramatically with Ryans as defensive coordinator now.
Fortunately, there’s little reason to assume anything else will happen. Warner, for all intents and purposes, will remain with the team for the long run, both because Ryans will mandate it and because it’s the correct move to make.