NaVorro Bowman Signing Guarantees 49ers Will Have NFL's Best LB Unit for Years

Joe LevittContributor IIINovember 28, 2012

Smile away, NaVorro: you just got paid.
Smile away, NaVorro: you just got paid.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Chalk it up however you like, but the San Francisco 49ers’ signing of NaVorro Bowman solidifies their starting linebacker unit as the best in the NFL.

And that brings a guarantee through 2015—at the very least.

Bowman, 24, received a five-year contract extension Tuesday that keeps him in San Francisco through 2018. Albert Breer of NFL Network reported that the deal is worth $45.25 million with $25.5 million guaranteed (via

Pretty handsome chunk of change indeed.

The 49ers have now locked up the league’s unquestionable preeminent duo at inside linebacker with Bowman and Patrick Willis for the foreseeable future. Willis, 27, is signed through the 2016 season.

“We are excited that the All-Pro tandem of Willis and Bowman will be together in red and gold for years to come,” 49ers’ General Manager Trent Baalke said.

Even more so, the 49ers are now set at all four ‘backer positions.

The extremely underrated strong-side LB Ahmad Brooks, 28, is under contract through 2017. Meanwhile, the NFL’s sacks leader Aldon Smith will look to continue his early-career record-setting pace through 2015.

Baalke may need to reissue his previous statement as the “All-Pro foursome sporting the red and gold for years to come,” if these gridiron warriors maintain their established production.

And witnessing any sort of a drop off is rather difficult to fathom.

Indeed, all four San Francisco linebackers are producing career-years, and if one necessarily isn’t, he’s still recognized as one of the most dominant at his position.

Smith falls under the first category with his league-leading 16.5 sacks and career-highs in tackles, forced fumbles and defensive stuffs.

Most notably, Smith, 23, became the fastest in NFL history to reach 30 sacks in his career (30.5 officially). He has done so in 27 games, breaking the legendary Reggie White’s mark of 30 in 28 games.

We must also not forget Smith has accomplished this incredible feat while making the transition to full-time outside linebacker. He solely played in pass-rushing downs during his 2011 rookie campaign, and operated purely as a defensive end at Missouri.

Brooks, for his part, is in the midst of establishing career-bests in nearly every statistical category. These include tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions, pass breakups and stuffs.

He also recorded his first career touchdown on an interception return against the Saints.

The 6’3’’, 259-pounder does everything at a high level and would be the top outside linebacker on just about every other team. Shame on him for playing for the 49ers.

Mr. Willis, of course, is a defensive coach’s dream.

He possesses elite football intelligence and athleticism, is a natural-born leader and plays both the run and pass with equal proficiency. The stat geniuses at Pro Football Focus rate him as the NFL’s No. 1 inside linebacker (membership required).

And Willis also happens to make everyone around him better.

Look no further than the man of the hour.

Bowman has developed into the league’s foremost inside ‘backer along with Willis. He dominates the gridiron from sideline-to-sideline against opposing rushers and would-be pass-catchers.

In fact, quarterbacks are completing a mere 57.9 percent of their passes with a lowly efficiency rating of 67.2 when throwing in his direction. Both metrics are top-two in the league according to PFF.

Willis is a big reason why Bowman is the player he is (2012 career-highs included), and Bowman is the reason why Willis doesn’t have to lead the team overwhelmingly in tackles anymore. 

Perhaps mutually-benefiting clones is the most apt way to describe these two.

Speaking of benefits, the 49ers also have the luxury of youthful vigor on their side.

Each linebacker is 28 years of age or younger. Brooks and Willis are in the middle of their prime, while Bowman and Smith remain on the outside looking in—in the positive sense that is.

Finally, no other team features the skill level, youth, contract stability, production, durability and intangibles that San Francisco’s starting linebacker corps possesses.

The Houston Texans’ unit comes close in some aspects, but Brian Cushing, Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin and co. can’t stay on the field together. They also aren’t as comprehensively skilled across the board.

The Steelers fall short in the age and pass-coverage departments, and while Kansas City’s linebackers are great, they have much room for improvement as all-around players.

Baltimore has a fearsome bunch, but lack the same talent and youth on the inside. The Cardinals ‘backers outside of Daryl Washington, meanwhile, aren’t anywhere near the quality of the 49ers' foursome.

In Chicago, it’s the Brian Urlacher/Lance Briggs combo or bust. Those guys aren’t getting any younger either.

And Dallas’s corps, headed by DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee (when healthy), might be the closest. Yet, it couldn’t dream of playing with the same cohesiveness and overall dominance as San Francisco’s.

Ergo, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith represent the best and brightest at the NFL linebacker position. They have the statistics, reputation, defensive rankings and team success to prove it.

Oh, and those long-term contracts provide some nice backing as well. Guess we’ll just have to revisit this topic down the road at some point.

How does 2016 sound?


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