Before Friday’s practice, Kyle Shanahan called a team meeting to tell the players NaVorro Bowman, the four time All Pro linebacker, had been released. The news caught even the most veteran players off guard.
“I’m shocked. I didn’t see the writing on the wall,” said Daniel Kilgore. The center and Bowman had been teammates for seven seasons.
“It’s tough, man. We spent a lot of time together. Our families have spent a lot of time together,” Kilgore said.
“I think everybody was pretty surprised,” added tackle Joe Staley, the longest tenured player on the 49ers. “I have nothing but positive things to say about NaVorro and the leader he’s been and the player he’s been here. He’s a great person. A hell of a teammate.”
Shanahan and John Lynch made the decision to release Bowman at the linebacker’s request. Bowman’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, contacted the general manager to discuss Bowman’s reduced playing time on Monday, following the 49ers 26-23 overtime loss to the Colts. Rookie Brock Coyle was subbed in for Bowman for a few series throughout that game. From the locker room afterward, Bowman told NBCSportsBayArea.com he knew he would be coming off the field, but in no way did he agree with the decision.
“They’re doing what they want to do, and . . . I don’t know. I don’t like it. Nobody likes coming out of the game, but I’m a team player,” Bowman said.
“They told me. But it’s hard to do that in the midst of a tough game. No player likes being taken out.”
Shanahan and Lynch met with Bowman after Thursday’s practice. The head coach intended to stick with his plan to limit Bowman’s time believing it would keep his legs fresher in a defensive scheme which, he says, requires the eight year veteran to run more and cover more ground. Bowman was not satisfied with his status and the parties began searching for a trade.
Lynch said the 49ers contacted every team in the league and had one deal in place. The trade did not appeal to Bowman. Instead, he asked for his release in order to work out his own deal with any of the 31 remaining teams. Shanahan realizes the decision may be difficult for many players on the team to understand.
“I hope they respect what our intentions are, and that no matter how hard it is, we are going to do what is best for this team,” Shanahan said. “I know whenever you are talking to a group of guys that lost a brother in that way, a good friend to everybody, it’s always a tough conversation. But I think our team, we’ve got a strong team, and I think our team will respond.”
Shanahan says Reuben Foster will move to Bowman’s ‘mike’ position, though he does not yet know if he will play against Washington this weekend. The first round draft pick returned to practice this week after missing more than a month with an ankle injury. The rookie says he learned quite a few things from Bowman in the time they were teammates.
“Toughness, pride, just different schemes, different reads, different reads that I never learned in college. It’s tough because we made a bond, and that’s my brother,” Foster said. “Just know that it’s a business, but at the end of the day it’s your heart too.”
What makes the loss of a valued teammate a bit easier is knowing Bowman has more business to tend to.
“He’s NaVorro Bowman. He’s played at an elite level his entire career, and he’s going to continue to do that wherever he goes,” Kilgore said.
Added Foster, “Wherever he’s at, wherever he goes, he’s going to do great. His career is not over with yet. Trust me.”