In a shocking move, the San Francisco 49ers announced Friday afternoon that they have released All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman. “Thursday evening, Kyle (Shanahan) and I met with NaVorro,” general manager John Lynch said. “And from our conversation it became evident that going in different directions was best for both him and our team.”
Bowman was growing increasingly annoyed with his role in San Francisco after being sidelined during certain formations throughout the year. “We had a conversation and, uh, I don’t know—they’re doing what they want to do and, I don’t know. I don’t like it,” Bowman told reporters after last week’s game. “No one likes coming out of the game, but I’m a team player.”
It all came to a head on Friday when after trade attempts were reportedly exhausted, the two parted ways.
So now there’s a 29-year-old, four-time All-Pro linebacker on the free market. Time for Bob Quinn to pull out his checkbook, right?
No, I don’t think so.
While Bowman would undoubtedly improve the Lions’ roster on defense, there are more reasons to pass on the veteran linebacker.
Bowman is just over a year removed from tearing his Achilles and missing nearly the entire 2016 season. He also missed the entire 2014 season after tearing his MCL and ACL in the NFC Championship Game the year before. In between those injuries, Bowman had a successful 2015 season, starting all 16 games and tallying 154 total tackles (2.5 sacks).
An offensive coach who faced him this year texted that NaVorro Bowman doesn't run well anymore, but still a good tackler, can fill a role.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 13, 2017
However, it’s clear after two major leg injuries and nearing the age of 30, Bowman isn’t quite what he used to be.
Not a fit in Detroit
Bowman played middle linebacker in San Francisco, and the Lions just so happened to draft a tackling machine to be their middle linebacker of the future. It would do a great disservice to move Jarrad Davis to the outside or downright bench him after adding Bowman.
It’s very clear that the Lions want Davis to be their middle linebacker, and adding Bowman would be an impediment to that plan.
But maybe you think Bowman can play the WILL or the SAM positions. After all, Tahir Whitehead is in a contract year, so why not create a little competition on the outside?
I have a few problems with that. First, a transition to an unfamiliar positions always seems to be rockier than expected, and Bowman’s diminishing athletic traits aren’t what you want in an outside linebacker that will have a bigger responsibility in coverage.
Additionally, this is a guy who just left his team (presumably) over playing time. That means he’s looking for a full-time role. If that’s the case, that means you’re pulling Whitehead off the field during nickel and dime looks. That’s the same Tahir Whitehead that currently leads the team in tackles and is the ninth-ranked linebacker in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Is an out-of-position, past-his-prime Bowman really better than Whitehead right now?
The Lions are in a good position to make a move right now. They have just over $4.9 million in cap space per the NFLPA salary cap report. That may not sound like much, but it actually puts them right in the middle of the league in terms of cap space.
Here’s the problem: Detroit now has to compete with 30 other teams that may be interested in Bowman’s services. That could very possibly run the price up, and the Lions are not in a position where they can—or even want to—offer Bowman a long-term deal.
Linebacker is not a need
The Lions have two linebackers currently playing at a very high level. Detroit’s run defense is among the best in the league, and solid linebacking play is a huge reason for that.
While it’s true Detroit’s depth has been challenged early on this year, Jarrad Davis is healthy and off the injury report, while Paul Worrilow is expected to be back shortly after the bye week.
Detroit only goes with two linebackers for most of the game, so their depth doesn’t have to be phenomenal. And even so, the Lions are already planning long-term for depth, having also drafted Jalen Reeves-Maybin in the fourth round this year.
When the Lions defense has struggled, it has been mostly due to poor defensive line play. The Lions spent some money on interior defenders this week, but they may also want to hold onto some cap space in case an edge rusher comes along. That is a far bigger need than linebacker at this point. And as Haloti Ngata’s injury proved, it’s always better to save money until you need it.
Should the Lions try to sign NaVorro Bowman?
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