The New England Patriots need linebacker help. The San Francisco 49ers just released All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Problem solved?
The Patriots should at least consider signing Bowman to boost their struggling run defense. They might as well sniff around the situation and see what Bowman might have left at 29 years old as he looks for a new team. Those expecting Bowman to still be the same player who earned four first-team All-Pro honors from 2011 to 2015 might be sorely disappointed, but the three-time Pro Bowl selection seemingly would be an upgrade over players like Elandon Roberts, David Harris, Marquis Flowers and maybe even Kyle Van Noy who have roamed the middle of the field for the Patriots this season.
And signing Bowman would allow the Patriots to move Dont’a Hightower back permanently to the edge, where they intended to play him this season. The move that would make sense would be to release Harris, another veteran linebacker, and swap in Bowman.
But first, the Patriots have to decide if Bowman is worth signing because Harris’ salary became guaranteed when he was on the team Week 1. And it isn’t as if Bowman is going to play for free.
Pro Football Focus has given Bowman just a 45 grade through five weeks. That’s down from an 85.4 grade in four games last season and a 90.5 during his peak in 2013. PFF has Bowman graded more positively as a run defender than in coverage or pass rush.
Bowman has allowed 11 catches on 13 targets for 113 yards with one touchdown this season in coverage, per PFF. He leads the 49ers in tackles with 38 this season. He has one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and one pass breakup.
Signing Bowman also would allow the Patriots to give themselves a midseason boost without giving up a player or draft capital. If the Patriots were to acquire a player of Bowman’s caliber via trade, they obviously would have to give up something in return, and they’re already low on future draft picks. They only would forfeit cap room to carry over into the 2018 season by signing Bowman.
The choice, obviously, isn’t only up to the Patriots. Bowman has to be interested, as well, and the 49ers released Bowman to give him a choice on where to sign.
Bowman signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension through 2022 just last season, so it’s fair to say this release was extremely unlikely as recently as last summer. But Bowman tore his ACL in 2014 and his Achilles in 2016. So, he’s not the same player he was during his peak. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be an upgrade on the Pats’ struggling defense.
Bowman does not need to pass through waivers and can sign with a team immediately. Only time will tell if the Patriots elect to pick up the phone and call Bowman’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
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