Patrick Willis on getting urge to play: 'Nope, I'm cool'

At 32, former 49ers star linebacker Patrick Willis does not seem to regret his early retirement from the NFL one bit.

"That inclination (to play) only comes for a split second," he told The Mercury News. "And then it's, 'Nope, nope, I'm cool.'"

The paper caught up with the seven-time Pro Bowler at an mixed-martial arts studio in San Jose, California, and, based on some video evidence, Willis could either jump back into the NFL or into the ring without much of a lapse.

Willis said he feels leaner than in his playing days.

"I don't know what it was, but I just felt strong, you know? Like I was strong again," Willis said. "I don't know if it's because I'm feeling lean, like a well-oiled machine, but it feels good."

Reading stories about this are just a reminder at the pretty stunning exodus sustained by the 49ers at the end of the Jim Harbaugh era. Losing players of this caliber doesn't excuse the firing of Harbaugh, then Jim Tomsula, then Chip Kelly over consecutive seasons, but it does shed a light on how difficult they are to replace. NaVorro Bowman showed that in real time this season when he went down with an Achilles tendon injury.

Getting past this prolonged valley in franchise history will be crucial for new coach Kyle Shanahan as he attempts to build a winning team in San Francisco. But if he needs a bodyguard, it seems Willis is up to the task.

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