NaVorro Bowman's time as a member of the San Francisco 49ers came to a surprising end Friday when he was released.
The 49ers announced Bowman's release with general manager John Lynch explaining the move:
"Thursday evening, (49ers head coach) Kyle (Shanahan) and I met with NaVorro, and from our conversation it became evident that going in different directions was best for both him and our team. Although NaVorro may be moving on, he will always be looked at as one of the great players to wear the red and gold. We wish him and his family great success.”
Bowman still had two more guaranteed years on his contract after this season, including an $8.7 million base salary in 2018, per Spotrac.
Bowman has spent his entire career with the 49ers up to this point. He was a third-round draft pick in 2010 and became a full-time starter on San Francisco's defense the following year.
During the 49ers' run of three straight playoff appearances from 2011-13, Bowman was one of the NFL's best linebackers. He recorded at least 143 tackles and was named to the All-Pro first team in each of those three seasons.
Since returning from the knee injury he suffered during the 2014 NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks, Bowman hasn't been the same dominant linebacker.
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus noted Bowman's limitations in coverage after the 2015 season:
"The 49er was actually still very good against the run in 2015; he led all linebackers in both tackles and stops by a significant margin, but his play fell away in coverage, where he allowed 90.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught and a passer rating of 110.9 when targeted. Bowman at his best was a complete linebacker, but the player of 2015 was far more one-dimensional. If he rediscovers the rest of his play this year, he will jump back onto the list."
The 49ers appeared to be phasing Bowman out of their defense this season. He was on the sidelines for three drives in a Week 5 loss against the Indianapolis Colts, though Shanahan explained it was to keep the 29-year-old fresh for the season.
"I do strongly believe keeping Bo as fresh as possible gives him the best chance to be successful – it gives our team the best chance," Shanahan told reporters. "Our defense has been averaging about 80 plays a game. And that’s a little too much for him, really all our linebackers."
As the 49ers continue to rebuild their entire roster, Bowman was a player stuck in between. He's still young and productive enough to start on many NFL defenses, but San Francisco has a first-year coach and general manager trying to remake the roster how they want.
Bowman gets a clean break from the 49ers with an opportunity to find a new home that will afford him the chance to play up to his full potential for the rest of 2017 and in the future.