49ers salary cap implications of NaVorro Bowman injury

Jonathan Ferrey

The 49ers could potentially be without NaVorro Bowman at the start of the 2014 season. We break down the salary cap implications of his potential absence, and what it means for Michael Wilhoite.

Last week, San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman tore his ACL, and also suffered damage to his MCL in the NFC Championship Game. Two days later, Jim Harbaugh said surgery would be delayed two to three weeks while the team waited for Bowman's MCL to heal. This is big news because avoiding MCL surgery is a boon for Bowman's recovery time. The partial tear/sprain means there is greater stability in the knee to boost his recovery time after ACL surgery.

All that being said, the late January nature of his injury means there is a chance his recovery time carries into the 2014 season. We won't know for certain until the season gets here, but the odds seem pretty good that he at least opens training camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. If he can't go through training camp, the team then has the option to move him to the Reserve/PUP list to start the season.

Once a player is placed on Reserve/PUP, the player is ineligible to play in the teams first six games. Once the six games are over, the 49ers have five weeks to get the player back on to the practice field. Once the player is back practicing, the team has three weeks to activate him back to the 53-man roster. If they do not meet one of these two deadlines, the player is out for the season.

What does this mean for the salary cap? A player on the PUP list will still earn their full base salary. Players on the Non-Football Injury list do not have to be paid, although teams can agree to pay the player some or all of his salary. For the PUP list, the only money that a player can lose is per game roster bonuses.

NaVorro Bowman will be impacted by this. Bowman has a $750,000 roster bonus that is paid out in the form of 16 payments of $46,875 per game. If he starts the regular season the PUP list, he would lose out on at least six weeks and as many as 14 of these payments, depending on how long he before he is activated to game day active status. That means if he starts the season on the PUP list, he'd miss at least $281,250 in game day bonuses.

If Bowman is unable to start the season at 100 percent, Michael Wilhoite would replace him in the starting lineup. Technically, Wilhoite is listed as a free agent, but he is of the exclusive rights variety. An exclusive rights free agent is only "free" in the sense that he can either sign the 49ers contract offer, or sit out the season. The team can renounce his rights and not make an offer, but that will not happen. Wilhoite has been very solid on special teams, and he is a solid fill-in at linebacker. With Bowman out for an indeterminate amount of time, Wilhoite will be looked at to fill in for him.

This past season, Wilhoite earned the minimum salary for a player with a single credited season $480,000. Wilhoite will likely earn a one-year salary of $570,000 in 2014, which is the minimum for two credited seasons. The 49ers could technically offer Wilhoite more than that, but it seems likely that they would look for consistency and just offer the minimum in any such instance.

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