One of the notable moments of last season was when San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman was hurt during the NFC title game.
Bowman was down with the ball after a Jermain Kearse fumble at the goalline. San Francisco safety Eric Reid had come in and hit a falling Kearse, whose weight and momentum ended up pushing into Bowman’s planted left leg. It was a gruesome buckle that tore his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament.
The Seahawks were able to wrestle the ball away from the injured Bowman before the referees could sort out who had possession.
Because of the play, fumbles like that can be reviewed for possession starting next season, thanks to what is being called the “NaVorro Bowman Rule.”
“That doesn’t fix my knee,” Bowman said of the rule change to the San Jose Mercury News, “but (the wrong call) won’t happen anymore.”
Bowman is walking again. He may not be ready to play football until the middle of next season.
Bowman turns 26 in late May and is the youngest of what is an expensive and aging linebacker group in San Francisco. Patrick Willis is 29. Ahmad Brooks is 30. Dan Skuta will be 28 in just more than two weeks.
The Seahawks linebackers, which were viewed as arguably the weakest part of the defense heading into last season (before performing very well for the league’s best defense), are much younger and cheaper. Malcolm Smith is 24. Bobby Wagner is 23. K.J. Wright is 24. If you want to add Bruce Irvin to this spot, he’s the old man at 26.
For now, this is another group of steals for the Seahawks. The trio of Smith, Wagner and Wright will make a combined $2,857,618 in base salary next season. Smith and Wright can become unrestricted free agents in 2015. Wagner can become an UFA in 2016.
Compare that to the 49ers: Willis will make a base of $5,285,000 next season, good for a $6,863,000 cap hit. He can become a UFA in 2017.
Bowman has a $4,000,000 base next year, but is a $7,050,000 cap hit. He’s guaranteed $25.5 million overall. He can become a UFA in 2019.
Brooks will make $4,250,000 next season and be a $6,600,000 cap hit.
That makes the 49ers’ trio of linebackers three of their top six cap hits next season. They are also three of the top four total contracts for San Francisco.
The 49ers will be taking a $20,513,000 cap hit for those three linebackers next year. The Seahawks will take a $3,383,829 cap hit for Smith, Wagner and Wright combined.
Each team is going to have to decide how to manage those groups going forward, but for different reasons. It seems the 49ers will soon have to release two of those linebackers. The Seahawks have to decide who they would want to extend, and what they are willing to spend with the looming Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman contracts.
It also appears a position both will be looking at during the draft.
For at least one more season, the Seahawks have another low-cost, high-production group.