Advanced statistics site Pro Football Focus ranked the five worst linebacker contracts on Wednesday, which lists the five most overpaid players at that position. As a bit of a shocker, San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman came in as the third worst in the league.
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Bowman was arguably the team's best player last season. On a team that didn't have much in the way of accomplishments, Bowman excelled during his first full season back from a devastating knee injury.
One of the factors in Pro Football Focus' list was length of contract. Bowman has three years remaining on his contract and averaged over $6 million per year during the first two years. Over the next three seasons, that average increases to over $9.5 million per year.
"Bowman returned from injury last year after missing the entire 2014 season, but wasn't quite the same player he was in 2013," said Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus. "Against the run he was still a dominant, however; his 50 run stops were second-most for inside linebackers. Part of what made Bowman an All-Pro in the past was his play in coverage, but the 49er wasn't anywhere close to as good in coverage in 2015 as he had been in the past. From 2011 to 2013, he averaged six passes defended per year, but only had one in 2015. His 9.3 yards per catch allowed was a career-high. His 604 receiving yards allowed was fifth-most for all linebackers. He also recorded a career-high 19 missed tackles. With the NFL being more of a passing game, a linebacker's coverage skills are more important than ever, and Bowman wasn't as successful there as he used to be."
"Bowman is getting paid like a top-four linebacker over each of the next three years. If his play in coverage can improve to what it used to be, he deserves that contract," Jahnke continues to say.
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On a team with over $49 million in cap room, a contract line Bowman's, which is the second highest on the team behind only QB Colin Kaepernick, is easy to absorb. Bowman's 61.1 overall grade by Pro Football Focus ranked him 51st among NFL linebackers. However, he ranked 20th in run-defense with an 84.8 grade. It was his 38.6 pass-defense grade that really hurt his average.
We reached out to Pro Football Focus analyst and 49ers media correspondent Jeff Deeney to get his opinion on the ranking. "Very good vs. run in '15, very poor in cvg (3rd worst ILB cvg grade, 3rd most yds, 90.3% catch rate). Expect better this year," said Deeney via Twitter.
"I feel great. Adding on days on top of days," said Bowman earlier this offseason. "I feel it sometimes, but it's nowhere near what I went through last year with the constant attention I had to put on it. This year, I'm able to wake up and ride. That's definitely a better thing that it was last year."
Lastly, the site factored in the season in which the team can cut the player and have more cap savings than dead money. For Bowman, that technically would have been this year. However, Pro Football Focus lists it as next year since deadlines have passed and his dead money would drop significantly from a $5.1 million hit in 2016 to a $2.1 million hit in 2017.
Bowman's contract ranks as the third highest in team cap hit among inside linebackers, behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers' Lawrence Timmons and the Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews. It also ranks eighth among all linebackers. As far as the base salary for Bowman, it ranks fourth among inside linebackers and just 17th among all linebackers.
In 2015, Bowman was in on 1,126 defensive snaps. 627 of those were against the pass while 499 were against the run. He compiled 154 tackles – which led the league – 2.5 sacks, and two passes defended last season.
NaVorro Bowman's contract at a glance
Signed through: 2018
Average remaining base salary per year: $7.1 million
Average remaining cap hit per year: $9.54 million
2016 base salary: $5.85 million
2017 base salary: $6.75 million
2018 base salary: $8.7 million
2016 cap hit: $9.554 million
2017 cap hit: $8.954 million
2018 cap hit: $10.104 million
* Cap numbers from Spotrac.com