BILLINGS — They say money makes the world go round, but what’s foremost to Mike Person — and the key to his implausible NFL longevity — is an unflinching work ethic.
Person, a Glendive native and former standout offensive lineman at Montana State, signed a contract extension with the 49ers last month worth $8.2 million over three years. The lucrative deal, originally reported by ESPN as a $9 million agreement, is the first long-term pact of what has otherwise been a journeyman career.
The contract came with a $3 million guarantee. For the first time in nine years, Person (6-4, 300) has some security. But the almighty dollar won’t change him.
“It’s nice knowing that I’ll have a home for this season, but it’s the same deal. They can let you go at any time if you’re not making the grade,” Person said during a phone interview with 406mtsports.com. “You can’t let it go to your head.
“You still show up to work every day and you’re the same guy you were for the first eight years of your career. It’s just a matter of showing up to work and, if anything, working even harder to prove to everyone that you deserve this.”
Last spring, Person was fairly certain his football journey had come to an end. After stops in six NFL cities over the course of seven seasons, Person was a free agent, stranded and unwanted.
That’s when the phone rang. It was the 49ers calling with an invitation to a workout. The team liked what it saw and offered Person a minimum contract.
Through the grind of OTAs and training camp, Person eventually earned a starting spot at right guard, and he held on to it for the entire 2018 season, starting all 16 games for the first time in his career.
He fought through foot, ankle and knee injuries but still played virtually every offensive snap.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve bounced around for a long time and I said, ‘You’re going to have to tell me I’m not playing,’” Person explained. “I was going to play if I had the chance.”
When the season ended, the 49ers knew they didn’t want to let Person drift into free agency again.
“Mike earned the respect of everyone in our building for the way he battled through injury last season to start all 16 games and perform the way he did,” GM John Lynch said in a team press release.
“Aside from his toughness and durability, he brings tremendous versatility to our offensive line, and we look forward to his contributions to the growth and development of that unit. Mike is exactly the type of person and competitor we look for, and we are very happy to have gotten this extension done.”
Added Person: “It was what I’d been working for. I haven’t taken the traditional route of getting that big second contract. This was my seventh contract. So it’s very rewarding for myself and my wife and our family.
“I’ve had some of the lowest of the lows that you can have as a professional football player. I’ve had some good times too, but this entire journey has been something else. It really has.”
Person, a 2006 graduate of Dawson County High School and a four-year starter at MSU, was originally drafted by San Francisco in the seventh round in 2011. Through his first seven seasons — which also included turns with the Colts, Chiefs, Falcons, Rams and Seahawks — Person appeared in 43 games and made 18 starts but had been cut from two Super Bowl teams and was released five times in all.
The 2018 season was much different as he was reunited with coach Kyle Shanahan, his offensive coordinator in Atlanta. In the end, Pro Football Focus ranked Person as the 49ers’ top-rated guard and their No. 3-rated offensive lineman.
“I think I did a pretty decent job,” said Person, who turns 31 on May 17. “I’m not one to toot my own horn so you’ll get a pretty modest response from me. But it was fun being able to get out there for 16 games. That’s something that not a lot of people get to do.
“Obviously there’s always things you have to improve on, and that’s been my focus this offseason, trying to mitigate those flaws in technique.”
The 49ers, who lost starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a left ACL tear in Week 3, finished the 2018 season with a 4-12 record but ended by winning two of their last four games with backup Nick Mullens under center.
Person beat out Josh Garnett for the starting spot at right guard last year, and he figures that battle will continue into training camp this season. The 49ers undoubtedly hold out hope for the oft-injured Garnett, who was a first-round draft pick (28th overall) out of Stanford in 2016.
Person, who has played everywhere on the line since his days at Montana State, is ready for another go-round.
“I just figured I’d go in and give it all I’ve got and just kind of cut it loose and it worked out for me,” said Person, who will report for the team’s first set of OTAs next week. “They started rotating me in with the (first team) during the spring in minicamp, and then once training camp came Josh and I had a battle for that right guard spot and just pushed each other every day.
“Luckily I was able to win out for that and hold on to that spot all season. It was a fun year, that’s for sure. One of the most fun years I’ve had playing football.
“But it’s back to square one when I report. Get my nose down in the dirt and here we go.”