NaVorro Bowman

In an offseason full of 49ers departures, is NaVorro Bowman next?

Stevie Johnson NaVorro Bowman 49ers

Remember when Michael Wilhoite was on the trading block? It was a couple weeks ago that Matt Barrows reported that bit of news, which showed just how much of a surprise Chris Borland’s retirement was to the 49ers.

Five days later, ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez dropped this little nugget into a story titled, “Patrick Willis’ retirement shines light on Chris Borland … again”:

Look, Willis was expected to make a full recovery and be joined in the middle of the Niners’ 3-4 defense by another former All-Pro, NaVorro Bowman, who missed all of last season still recovering from the gruesome left knee injury he suffered in the NFC title game in January 2014.

But now speculation is rampant that Bowman could be cut, as well, a did-not-pass-the-physical casualty. Granted, it’s all conjecture at this point, but it’s also a logical leap.

Whether or not the leap was logical nine days ago is one thing, with Borland looking like a future starter at the position for the next five years — if not longer — at the time. How about now, with Willis and Borland gone and a depth chart that looks like this?

  • NaVorro Bowman (who was better than DPOY Luke Kuechly in 2013)
  • Michael Wilhoite (almost certainly won’t be traded now)
  • Nick Moody (who’s done more on special teams than on defense)
  • Shayne Skov (practice-squadder who’d be a major liability in coverage)

One could also throw in Ahmad Brooks, who’s still on the roster and played middle linebacker at the beginning of his career. And there’s always the free agency route (Rolando McLain is still available … he’s also facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy), the draft, established NFL players who get cut this summer, etc.

However, with an inside linebacking pool that shallow, the 49ers pretty much have to give Bowman more time to recover, even if he’s facing the kind of recovery that led Marcus Lattimore to retire … right? Also, Bowman posted a grainy Instagram video of himself playing basketball, which may be a sign that he’s feeling extra mobile these days (unless the video is actually from 2013 or earlier).

Here’s what Trent Baalke had to say on the subject, per Chris Biderman:

“You can tell he’s working. And I think he feels good. He’s really starting to feel like it’s coming back to where he wants it. And that’s always the most important thing,” Baalke said Wednesday.

Baalke said Bowman did not suffer a setback to the knee during his practice stint (in December) – rather it was the best decision for Bowman’s future not to push his recovery.

“There was no setback at all,” Baalke said. “It was just a matter of what’s the best decision for him long-term at that time. And that was just the decision that we made.”

In the end, despite the “whatever terrible that could happen, ABSOLUTELY WILL HAPPEN” tone of this disastrous offseason, I’m prone to believe that Bowman will end up on the 49ers’ active roster for Week 1, or short-term IR at the absolute worst. They’ve lost so many stars already, which makes Bowman’s return even more crucial as the team’s hopes of continuing as an NFC West contender hang in the balance. And besides, if the 49ers determine that Bowman’s knee will never heal well enough to allow him to return as an above-average starting inside linebacker, and decide to cut him (probably after June 1) to get some cap space, their “reloading” process will undoubtedly have moved fully to the “rebuilding” phase … if that hasn’t occurred already.

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