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.