49ers and NaVorro Bowman: When to Extend Him?

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14: NaVorro Bowman #53 of the San Francisco 49ers and his team prepare to take the field for the start of the NFC Divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Unless you live under a rock you know what a spectacular linebacker NaVorro Bowman has become in just a few short years. In 2011 it was frequently mentioned how the coaches couldn't tell whether it was Patrick Willis or Bowman who was making a particular play on the game film.

As if that wasn't compliment enough (being compared to the best linebacker in the game), Bowman also went on to be named to the Pro Bowl AND the All Pro first-team. There honestly aren't any higher honors he could have earned for himself last year.

It's no secret that the 49ers defense is among the best, if not THE best, in the NFL. This team would look much different in the standings were it not for the ability of the defense to come up with key stops, turnovers, etc. Keeping the pieces of the defense together while managing money and the salary cap are very important issues.

I think that it's time to start talking about extending Bowman. His price already went up after last year. If he were to hit the market today he'd absolutely command top LB money, perhaps top-five even. Another solid season and his cha-ching only get's more cha-ching'ey.

After the jump let's talk about the complications of getting it done.

The main issue with extending Bowman in 2012 is the salary cap. The 49ers are approaching maximum cap-acity right now keeping in mind the room needed to sign rookies taken in the NFL Draft. There aren't a lot of guys expected to be cut who would free up much 2012 cap-space, either.

Here are a few things the team could do in order to create the cap room needed to re-ink Bowman in 2012:

  1. Re-do Justin Smith's deal. He's scheduled to make nearly $6M in salary (read: cap hit) in 2012. Adding another year to his deal (he has two years remaining) and converting that $6M to signing bonus would reduce the cap number by around $4M for 2012.
  2. Sign Dashon Goldson. All of his $6M+ franchise-tagged salary goes toward the cap for 2012. Give him a two-to-three year deal and reduce the cap-number by a few million.
  3. Extend Isaac Sopoaga. Soap is scheduled to earn around $4M in salary counting towards the cap in 2012. He's not signed beyond this year and the depth behind him hasn't proven to be ready to step-up. Give him two more years added-on and turn his cap number into about a million bucks for 2012.
  4. Cut or re-do Parys Haralson's deal. The former is probably more likely, as Haralson surely doesn't want to be a backup all of a sudden. He's counting $2.7M towards the cap in 2012. It wouldn't save much to give him a three-year deal with a modest bonus, but it would help.

There are some things that could be done that would help get the team where it needs to be to make this happen. With an ascending guy like Bowman, the longer you wait after a breakout season like this, the more it's going to cost you in the long-run. I doubt the 49ers want to pay BOTH their ILB's top dollar if they can avoid it. Bowman's making third-round money right now, so a bump in pay would surely be welcomed. I think it's the right time to get it done.

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