The San Francisco 49ers have a rising star on their defensive line in Fred Warner, who has been a force in the trenches for the team this season. Now, he is just one example of how the NFL is becoming increasingly player-friendly. Warner’s base salary of $1.6 million, which he signed in August, is the largest amount given to any rookie in the history of the salary cap. It is also nearly double the amount of a typical NFL rookie’s first-year salary.

San Francisco 49ers star Fred Warner negotiated his first-ever contract as an undrafted free agent last week, and he has a pretty good case study for how a rookie should handle a rookie contract when he gets his opportunity. In retrospect, he should have been better prepared for what was ahead of him.

As a new, rising star in San Francisco, Fred Warner is a big man with big expectations. But Warner was not the first rookie to forget this fact when it comes to agent negotiations. In fact, the average NFL rookie is entering the league with a $14 million deal that will only grow to a $17 million deal after four years of service.

Despite having to wait until the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft to hear his name called, Fred Warner has quickly established himself as a player who should have been chosen much sooner. Fortunately for the San Francisco 49ers, they’ve received Pro Bowl-caliber performance from a guy who didn’t cost a lot of money. Warner, on the other hand, will no longer be such a bargain. 

The 24-year-old placed himself in position for a significant raise by rapidly growing into an outstanding linebacker. Warner recently gave his colleagues a $95 million lesson on how to negotiate a genuinely player-friendly contract, based on the specifics of his record-setting agreement.

The meteoric ascent of Fred Warner from third-round draft selection to the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history

Isn’t it true that the 49ers have a knack for scouting linebackers? With the 70th overall selection in the 2018 draft, the same team that previously boasted a defense based around the dominating homegrown combination of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman discovered another potential star at the position. The 6-foot-4, 236-pound linebacker came into the NFL as a high-potential prospect with a strong college record. In 48 games at BYU, Warner had 262 tackles (32.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks, seven interceptions, thirteen passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries. He continued where he left off in his debut season as a professional football player.

Warner started all 16 games as middle linebacker as a rookie, accumulating 124 total tackles and six pass breakups. Warner demonstrated the full skill set that earned him an early-round draft selection in his second season in San Francisco. He added three sacks, five quarterback hits, nine passes intercepted, and three forced fumbles to his 118 tackles for a 49ers squad that came agonizingly close to winning Super Bowl 54.

Despite the fact that his club ended the season with a dismal 6-10 record, Warner had a fantastic year. The California native put himself up for a life-changing raise thanks to his sideline-to-sideline speed and ability to analyze plays. Warner received the highest show of appreciation by being chosen first-team All-Pro, in addition to being selected to his first Pro Bowl.

The 49ers made a record-breaking investment on Wednesday, with one of their most essential players approaching the conclusion of his rookie deal. They extended Warner’s contract for five years and $95 million, making him the highest-paid inside linebacker in league history. When you look at his contract in detail, it’s obvious that he got the definition of a player-friendly agreement.

The 49ers standout recently gave his teammates a $95 million lesson on how to get a real player-friendly deal.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner celebrates recording a turnover against the Buffalo Bills.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner celebrates recording a turnover against the Buffalo Bills. Linebacker Fred Warner of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a turnover against the Buffalo Bills during the 2020 NFL season. | Getty Images/Ralph Freso

When it comes to numbers, they don’t always tell the entire picture. After all, NFL contracts often include clauses that may have a significant impact on how much a player is paid in the future. There are many methods for clubs to protect themselves financially, ranging from injury clauses to exercise bonuses to statistic-based incentives.

In Warner’s situation, though, he seems to be the clear winner at the bargaining table. After all, his contract with the 49ers is structured in such a way that it is very player-friendly.

Warner’s five-year agreement, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, is effectively two contracts in one. The last two years of the contract are immediately voided in the first scenario, giving the linebacker $54.9 million in additional money over three years. Bobby Wagner, who signed a three-year, $54 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, would be slightly ahead of him. More significantly, Warner would have an advantage over his competitor in terms of the proportion of his deal that is guaranteed over the course of four years (69 percent for Warner compared to 61 percent for Wagner).

The 49ers may buy back the remaining two years of Warner’s contract (after it voids) by paying him $21.85 million in 2025, according to Rapoport. Under that scenario, the All-Pro linebacker would earn $76.8 million in additional money. Isn’t that a good result for Warner?

NFL players with any kind of bargaining clout should look to his contract as the gold standard. Warner received a greater proportion of his deal guaranteed than the previous record holder, and he has the opportunity to earn almost $100 million before hitting free agency after turning 30. Warner could have an opportunity to cash in again if he continues to play at a high level and stays healthy (he hasn’t missed a regular-season game in three years). As a result, he not only had long-term financial stability, but he also had the option of being paid again in the future.

Warner’s new contract should pave the way for other linebackers to profit from his performance.

Fred Warner/Darius Leonard Pick your poison. Warner, Leonard 416 tackles 367 tackles 42 gms 48 gms 253 solos 268 solos 268 solos 268 solos 268 solos 268 solo 26 TFL 15 TFL 15 sacks 4 sacks 7 INTs 3 INTs 26 TFL 15 TFL 15 sacks 4 sacks FF 9 FF 3 2 All-Pro Photos 1 All-Pro Photo twitter.com/BduGEBgS1T

21 July 2021 — Mike Chappell (@mchappell51)

What linebacker will be the next to receive a lucrative contract extension?

While it’s unclear if anybody will match Warner’s $95 million contract, don’t be shocked if a couple of his colleagues get similar guarantees.

Darius Leonard seems to be on his way to become the Indianapolis Colts’ highest-paid player. Warner is likely to sign a four-year contract for “north of $19 million per year,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, on the same day he inked his record-setting agreement.

Meanwhile, Tremaine Edmunds, a 2018 first-round selection, seems to be a leading contender for a long-term contract with his present club. The two-time Pro Bowler is set to become a free agency in 2023, so the Bills must come up with a deal that would entice him to remain in Buffalo.

Edmunds should, of course, have a figure in mind when he gets down at the bargaining table, courtesy to Fred Warner.

Pro Football Reference provided all statistics. Spotrac provided all contract information.

RELATED: Stephon Gilmore reportedly has two drastically different options for Bill Belichick to consider in order to convince him to return to the Patriots.

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