San Francisco 49ers: Bowman May Be Done, But Can Still Help The Team

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: NaVorro Bowman /

San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman continues trying to come back from his second catastrophic injury, leading to speculation that his best days are well behind him – but he can still serve a vital role on this team.

San Francisco 49ers legendary coach Bill Walsh would cut him. George Seifert would cut him. Any coach with a decent grasp of football would cut him. At least, that’s what a few recent articles would have you believe about linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

At on time, he was one of the best in the business at his position. Though some credit Justin Smith and Patrick Willis for making his life easier – which, they did to a certain degree – to claim that Bowman wasn’t fantastic in his own right is just plain wrong and ignorant to the facts.

Over a four season stretch, Bowman was compiling numbers that put him up there with some very solid company at his position. From 2011-2013, he averaged well over 100 tackles, three sacks, and a respectable number of passes defensed per season.

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Then, during the NFC Championship game in 2013, he tore just about everything in his left knee – an injury that cost him his entire 2014 season.

But Bowman came back strong in 2015, determined to prove that he could still play. And he proved a lot of those who doubted he could recover from that catastrophic injury and be anywhere close to as effective as he was before wrong. Very, very wrong.

For the season, Bowman posted a league-leading 154 tackles (116 solo), 2.5 sacks, forced a fumble, and had two passes defensed. And for his efforts, he was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl and was named a first team All-Pro.

But then, four games into the 2016 season, Bowman tore his Achilles in a game against Dallas and his season was over very prematurely.

Now, Bowman is on the comeback trail once again. And depending on who you ask, his progress is either about what you’d expect from somebody rehabbing from another major injury, or looking like he’s not going to be able to regain his former form.

A recent article casts some serious doubt about Bowman’s ability to play.

"“This week during OTAs, Bowman couldn’t even keep up with Garrett Celek, a blocking tight end who probably won’t make the 49ers’ final roster. Celek is not a quick player, but he beat Bowman easily. On one play, Bowman had to reach out and desperately grab Celek’s jersey because Celek easily ran past him. That would be a penalty in a real game.”"

It’s that line of reasoning, the writer of the piece believes the 49ers should go ahead and take the Walsh/Siefert route and cut Bowman.

One argument that can be made against cutting Bowman now though, is that he is still rehabbing from a major injury. Bowman is only eight months removed from blowing out his Achilles and he’s going to need a little time to get back up to full speed.

It’s time, the writer insists, the 49ers don’t really have. But when you have a depth chart that features the likes of Malcolm Smith, Ray Ray Armstrong, Brock Coyle, and Ahmad Brooks – you probably want to make the time for somebody who’s been as impactful as Bowman has been over his career.

After all, he’s a guy who came back from a catastrophic knee injury – and came back even better than before. If anybody is going to be able to rise up once again and prove his doubters and detractors wrong, it very well might be Bowman.

But the reason the 49ers should hang on to Bowman, rather than throwing him on the scrap heap, boils down to two things – money and experience.

As far as the money goes, the 49ers are going to be on the hook for quite a bit of cash owed whether Bowman is on the roster or not. That’s, thanks to four-year, $42 million dollar contract extension (with $22 million in guarantees) given to Bowman in the Fall of 2016.

It was an odd extension to hand out, given that Bowman still had three years remaining his current – at the time – deal. The 49ers aren’t going to be able to opt-out of that deal until after the 2020 season, which means that he’s going to carry a hefty cap number whether he’s with the team or not.

Simply put, they won’t be saving a whole bunch of money if they release Bowman.

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So, given that they aren’t going to be saving much by cutting him, why not let him stick around and play? Will he be anywhere near as impactful as he’s been previously? We won’t know until the pads come on and the hitting starts. OTA’s are a poor way to judge where somebody is in their rehab – especially one who’s still fighting to get into shape.

It very well may be that Bowman isn’t the player he used to be. He may not be an asset on passing downs and may be better suited to focus on the running game. He wouldn’t like it, but it may be that the 49ers deploy him to stop the run and take him out on obvious passing downs.

His play may be limited, but he can still serve a very valuable role on this team – that of mentor. With the 49ers drafting a potential young stud in Reuben Foster, the team would be wise to let him learn from Bowman – a guy who’s been there, done and seen it all.

His professionalism and the way he goes about his business could be a terrific influence on Foster. It could help teach him to be a pro, not to mention a dominating force on the field. If Foster can develop into the force Bowman was, the 49ers are going to be in very good shape.

Yeah, that would make Bowman the most overpaid mentor/babysitter in the history of the world. But they’re going to have to pay him anyway – why not put his valuable experience to good use?