Why 49ers release of Bowman is best for both sides

Why 49ers release of Bowman is best for both sides

The 49ers came to the conclusion linebacker NaVorro Bowman no longer had value to the organization on or off the field.

In Bowman’s mind, he is the same player who was a first-team All-Pro selection in his each of his four full seasons as an NFL starter.

And that’s where the sides agreed to disagree, which led the 49ers to release Bowman on Friday -- on the same day the club travels to the East Coast to face Washington on Sunday.

General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan appeared at a press conference Friday at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara to discuss the move.

“When Kyle and I came into this, we said we knew that we would have to make tough decisions, if they were in the best interests of our team. We felt like this was,” Lynch said.

Bowman started to see a reduction in his playing time last week against the Indianapolis Colts. He would have seen a significant decrease as rookie Reuben Foster returns to full strength from a high ankle sprain.

He made it clear he did not like coming off the field for just one series per half a week ago. He was certainly not going to be satisfied being – at most – a two-down player with Foster playing full-time.

Bowman’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, expressed to the 49ers on Monday that Bowman would like to seek a trade. The 49ers reached out to all 31 teams after a meeting with Bowman, Lynch and Shanahan following practice on Thursday.

Rosenhaus called Friday morning to tell Lynch that Bowman would publicly accept a reduced role with the 49ers.

But, by that time, Lynch knew it was too late. The 49ers pulled the plug on trade talks with a couple of interested teams, according to Lynch, to enable Bowman to become a free agent and cut his own deal.

"Having been through that myself, once you're there, mentally, people feel it in the building," Lynch said. "Some people are going to question whether this is, but I truly do feel it's best for us and I truly do feel it's best for Bow, for him to go and have an opportunity somewhere where if someone brings him in, I will imagine they will have a role and that role will be easier. It's harder to do in the place you've been."

Bowman missed the entire 2014 season with a devastating knee injury sustained in the NFC Championship game at Seattle in January 2014. He returned to an All-Pro level in 2015, but sustained a torn Achilles in the fourth game of last season.

Lynch and Shanahan described the 49ers’ decision to release Bowman at this stage of the season as a move that was best for Bowman and the 49ers.

It was clear he did not exhibit the same explosiveness and foot speed upon his return to the field for this season.

Off the field, the 49ers wanted Bowman to take on more of a leadership stature, a selfless attitude and accept his role of helping set a good example for the young players as the team got off to an 0-5 start.

The future for the 49ers is Foster. The future also includes Malcolm Smith, who would have been a starter if not for the season-ending pectoral injury he sustained in August. The 49ers also like Brock Coyle, and newcomers Elijah Lee and Mark Nzeocha, Lynch said.

With an increasing price tag for next year that included a scheduled $9.45 million in salary and bonuses, there was no chance Bowman would be back with the 49ers next season, regardless of how things went the remainder of the season.

Bowman does not see himself as a player in the twilight of his career. He was upset that he was being phased out. Bowman still sees himself as one of the league’s top players.

The 49ers gave him that opportunity to go to another team to prove it.

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”

49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks


49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks

The 49ers hosted two veteran cornerbacks on free-agent visits the past two days and could be signing either Jaylen Watkins or LaDarius Gunter as they wind down their activity on the free-agent market.

“We’re really pleased with what we’ve done,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “I’ll never say never. We’ve had a couple of guys visit in the last couple of days. Perhaps we’ll do something there. But for the most part, we’re wrapped up and pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”

The 49ers do not have much depth behind presumptive starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. The team is also likely to add to its depth in the draft.

The 49ers met with Gunter (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) on Thursday. Gunter, 25, started 15 games for the Green Bay Packers in 2016. He recorded 54 tackles and broke up 12 passes. He signed with the Packers in 2015 as an undrafted rookie from Miami.

Gunter was waived at the beginning of last season and the Carolina Panthers claimed him. He appeared in just four games with Carolina, which did not tender him as a restricted free agent.

The 49ers on Wednesday met with Watkins, 26, a versatile defensive back who appeared in 36 games with five starts in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Watkins (5-11, 195) played three snaps on defense and 17 plays on special teams in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. He entered the NFL in 2014 as a fourth-round draft pick from Florida.