After much speculation on Monday, The San Francisco 49ers announced Tuesday that 30 year-old linebacker Patrick Willis is retiring. He is set to make a formal streaming announcement at 3 p.m. ET on 49ers.com/live and the 49ers mobile app.
Willis had toe surgery in 2014 but made no indication that he was not planning to return to the NFL. ESPN reports that Willis said he had “five or six years left in my body. … When I come back, I will be bigger and better than I was.”
Willis was arguably one of the most popular athletes in the NFL, ranking in the Top 50 of the NFL Players Inc. (NFLPI) Top 50 Player Sales List repeatedly. In the most recent list published in January, he ranked No. 46 but ranked at No. 16 in the same quarter for 2014. The list is based on total sales of all licensed products such as jerseys, T-shirts, photos and other accessories sold by more than 80 manufacturers such as Nike, Fanatics and Fathead.
A career-long player for the 49ers, Willis was a first-round draft pick by San Francisco in 2007, being named Defensive Rookie of the year. He went on to spend eight seasons with the team, starting in all 112 games.
“Some of the greatest memories in the history of our franchise have come from his passion, dedication and sacrifice,” said 49ers CEO Jed York in a statement. “Patrick epitomizes everything you could ever want in a San Francisco 49er. What he brought to this team goes much further than his athletic abilities. His leadership and infectious love for the game helped propel this team.”