I was planning on ignoring this because I think it’s been misrepresented to some degree, but the questions keep coming up. Rotoworld posts short snippets where they write a sentence or two about a piece of news, and then offer a paragraph of analysis. Recently, they wrote that, “The Santa Rosa Press Democrat expects the 49ers to cut ILB Navorro Bowman.”
The source for the article was a Grant Cohn column titled “For all his greatness, NaVorro Bowman's time is done.” The article does not wait long at all to go right to the Cohn favorite of mentioning Bill Walsh: “Right about now, if Bill Walsh were alive and running the 49ers, he would cut NaVorro Bowman.”
I had read most of Cohn’s column, but I had not read the last paragraph. I’m guessing this line is what got Rotoworld writing what they did:
“I’m guessing the Niners will wait for Foster to recover and, when he does, they’ll cut Bowman.”
Obviously all of this sent 49ers fans into a tizzy. I am certainly not surprised by such a reaction, but as I do have some thoughts on it from several angles, I thought it was worth addressing.
First, the Bill Walsh comment. Yes, Bill Walsh talked about the value of releasing someone a year too early rather than a year too late. There is an entirely reasonable debate to be had about that, and how it would apply to Bowman. He’s coming off his second leg injury in three years, and is not getting any younger. However, there are a few questions with applying that in the present situation. Would Bill Walsh have cut Bowman:
- As a first-year head coach (and GM);
- While changing over a defense, when it applies to a leader of that defense; and
- During OTAs, before we’ve even seen how these players are looking through training camp
I don’t think the Walsh comments are entirely black and white, and this situation brings all sorts of context to consider. And that third aspect of it particularly so. Shanahan has not seen Bowman in pads outside of film from previous seasons. It’s possible Bowman will look slow in training camp and the preseason once he puts his pads on. He’s 29 and coming off that second major leg injury. To think there’s zero chance he loses a step or two is naive. But I think a first year head coach and GM also have to wait and see what pads and actual game action bring.
I do agree that there is a good chance they cut him at some point before the end of his contract. That’s just the nature of the NFL in the salary cap era. If he does not retire first, contracts never seem to come to a mutual conclusion. I don’t think it happens this year, but I would not be surprised if that was how things eventually ended.
However, where Cohn appears to be incorrect is in his discussion of the salary cap. Here’s what he said with regard to the salary cap:
They’ll have to cut him eventually, anyway. He’s under contract through 2022 making an average of $10.5 million per season. Bowman isn’t worth that much money. Cut him now and take the cap penalty while the team can afford it. The Niners currently have more than $70 million in cap space. This is the year to cut an expensive veteran.
If the Niners wait until next year to cut Bowman, his $8.2 million cap hit could prevent the team from signing other free agents, such as quarterback Kirk Cousins, who will cost between $20 million and $30 million per season.
There are a couple of problems with his analysis. If the 49ers cut Bowman right now, they actually would still have to carry the bulk of his dead money on the 2018 cap because this would be a post-June 1 cut. The team cannot have all the money roll up now once June 1 passes, so the dead money will be there in 2018 anyway. Just using a quick Over The Cap analysis, if the 49ers cut Bowman, they’d carry $2,654,000 in dead money this year, and $8,224,000 in dead money in 2018. If they cut him next offseason, they’d either carry $8,224,000 with a pre-June 1 cut, or $2,544,000 in 2017 as a post-June 1 cut (with the money not available until June 2). All of that is to say that at this point, cutting Bowman would not result in more savings than cutting him next spring.
Additionally, Cohn talks about the $70 million in cap space, but ignores that a) it can be rolled over, and b) they are looking at over $50 million in additional cap space next year. Keeping or releasing Bowman will likely have no impact on whether or not the 49ers can sign Kirk Cousins. His first year cap hit likely wouldn’t be the $20 million or $30 million Cohn mentions, but even if they wanted a hugely front-loaded deal, cap space would not be an issue.
Considering cap space really is not an issue in any of this for the time being, I think it makes sense to wait and see with Bowman. If he is looking slow in training camp and the preseason, then sure, you have to consider all options. Mike Lombardi tweeted that the team had shopped him, but the team strongly denied it. Someone might very well call and inquire about Bowman at some point, and I don’t think a trade for most any player is off the table.
All of this is to say that it is reasonable to worry about how NaVorro Bowman recovers from his injury, but it is too soon to say he should be cut ASAP. There is more context to this than just saying, he got hurt, he looked slow in OTAs, time to cut him. I don’t know how long Bowman will remain a member of the 49ers, but I also would be surprised if he was cut this year. Even if Reuben Foster is 100 percent healthy for training camp, I just don’t see it happening.
So, no need to overreact for the time being!