The 2013 season is a wrap for the San Francisco 49ers, but before we take the deep dive into free agency and look ahead to 2014, we're going to take an initial look at that season that was for each position group. We moved over to the defensive side of the ball on Monday and Tuesday, looking at the secondary. Today we move down to the inside linebackers.
The 49ers inside linebackers are slightly decent, with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman forming the best linebacking duo in the NFL. There are other great linebackers, but none combine to match what Willis and Bowman bring to the table. Bowman played 97 percent of defensive snaps, while Willis played 81 percent, missing two games with a groin injury. Given how the season ended for NaVorro Bowman, depth will be the name of the game this offseason.
NaVorro Bowman - 16 games | 120 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 9 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, 1 touchdown | PFF: 20.0, 3.0 run D, 11.3 pass rush , 5.1 pass D, 0.6 penalty | Run stop percentage: 11.4 (4th), PRP: 19.9 (3rd), Combined Tackling Efficiency: 12.7 (11th), Cover snaps/reception: 12.9 (8th)
It was quite the year for NaVorro Bowman. Vic Fangio mixed him in more frequently as a pass rusher, and the move paid off as Bowman had a career-high five sacks. Bowman did not get any votes for Defensive Player of the Year, but there is a very real argument to at least have him in the mix. He was a play-maker for this defense, stepping up in particular when Patrick Willis missed two games with a groin injury.
And really, Bowman seemed to move out of Patrick Willis shadow. He has been an emergent force since Vic Fangio came to town, but this year it went from mixing up the two on plays, to assuming Bowman was the one who made the play. I think it led to some underrating of Willis this year, but there is nothing to take away from Bowman's performance. He was a beast.
The big story this offseason will be how he recovers from his torn ACL, and how the 49ers compensate without him for some period of time. Speaking of which....
2014 status: Signed through 2018 | Base: $4,000,000; Cap: $7,050,000
Patrick Willis - 14 games | 82 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 1 pass deflection, 2 forced fumbles | PFF: 15.5, 6.4 run D, 2.8 pass rush, 4.9 pass D, 1.4 penalty | Run stop percentage: 6.9 (32nd), PRP: 16.7 (8th), Combined Tackling Efficiency: 15.1 (7th), Cover snaps/reception: 10.0 (24th)
The 49ers all-world linebacker has turned into almost a quiet, under-the-radar player. It would have seemed crazy two or three years ago, but this year, it really did feel like people forgot about Patrick Willis. He continued to make plays, but his role involved a lot more dirty work, and coverage work. Bowman worked in coverage as well, but Willis was getting quite a bit of that work.
There is a good chance NaVorro Bowman misses the start of the 2014 season, whether it be as an inactive player, or on the PUP list for the first six weeks. I would not be surprised if during that time, we start hearing stories about Patrick Willis' "resurgence" and how 2013 was a bit quiet for someone with his credentials and he's bouncing back. Simply put, I expect to see Willis more than compensate for the loss of Bowman for any stretch of 2014.
2014 status: Signed through 2016 | Base: $5,285,000; Cap: $6,863,000
Michael Wilhoite - 16 games | 32 tackles, 1 pass deflection | PFF: -2.5, -2.4 run D, -0.7 pass rush, 0.4 pass D, 0.2 penalty
Of course, the guy to really keep an eye on will be Michael Wilhoite. He replaced Patrick Willis for two weeks while he dealt with a groin injury, after getting extensive ILB time in the preseason. He's an exclusive rights free agent, which means he is as close to a guarantee to return as someone can be without a contract in hand. The 49ers could decide to extend him for a multi-year deal, but more than likely he'll get a one-year minimum deal. But he'll be the guy to watch in the offseason workout program and into training camp.
2014 status: Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Nick Moody - 4 games | 3 tackles | PFF: -0.7, -0.3 pass rush, -0.7 pass D
Moody missed much of the season while on short term injured reserve with a hand injury. When active he focused almost exclusively on special teams, but did get a few defensive snaps here and there. He will get an opportunity to compete for work behind Willis and Wilhoite while Bowman recovers. Conceivably he could work his way past Wilhoite, but I would be surprised if he did that this year.
2014 status: Signed through 2016 | Base: $495,000; $521,918
Darius Fleming - IR
The 49ers drafted Fleming as an outside linebacker in 2012. He blew out his knee getting ready for the season, switched to inside linebacker the next offseason, and then blew out his knee again. He'll be in the mix for opportunities with Bowman out, but he has a long road back.
2014 status: Signed through 2015 | Base: $570,000; Cap: $611,200