SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers cut ties with one of the few remaining links to their last run of success when they released linebacker NaVorro Bowman on Friday.
General manager John Lynch said the team looked into possible trade partners and came close to completing one. But when that fell through, Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan granted Bowman’s request and released him to give him the opportunity to pick his new team.
“We tried to do what was best for him also and the team and give him a chance to move on,” Shanahan said. “We thought we had those trade partners, but I think he was a little bit more interested in keeping it open for himself to be able to pick what team he wanted.”
Bowman originally joined the 49ers as a third-round pick in 2010 and quickly formed one of the league’s best linebacking duos with Patrick Willis. The two were key to San Francisco’s run of three straight trips to the NFC title game and one Super Bowl appearance.
The only players remaining in San Francisco who played in that Super Bowl following the 2012 season are left tackle Joe Staley, center Daniel Kilgore and tight end Garrett Celek.
“He’s given his heart and soul for this organization,” Lynch said. “I know he’s a fan favorite. So, this isn’t going to be easy for the fans, but Kyle and I felt like it was in the best interest of our team and so we’ve acted accordingly.”
Bowman earned first team All-Pro honors four times in his career, achieving it from 2011-13 and then again in 2015 after coming back from a devastating knee injury. Bowman then tore his Achilles tendon early last season and missed most of the year before coming back again this year.
While he lacks some of the speed he had when he was younger, Bowman still could probably help a team at age 29 and would like to get to a contender.
The Niners have been far from that in recent years, going 5-11 in 2015 and then matching the worst record in franchise history last year at 2-14. San Francisco has lost the first five games this year and is looking to give more time to younger players like first-round pick Reuben Foster.
Foster could return from an ankle injury that has sidelined him since the opener on Sunday against Washington. He had been playing next to Bowman when healthy but will soon slide over to Bowman’s middle linebacker spot.
Bowman started the first five games, recording 38 tackles and one pass defensed. He had been upset about being taken out for stretches of games after being accustomed to being an every-down player most of his career.
“I thought it would help Bo out to play at a higher level if we took him out a couple of series throughout a game,” Shanahan said. “I thought it would help save his legs more, give him the energy and the bursts that he needed to play in the scheme. And he respectfully disagreed. And I also respect that. And it’s kind of what you expect from a competitor like Bo.”
Lynch said he went through a similar situation in his final year in Denver in 2008 when coach Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s father, tried to diminish his role. Lynch said he went to Mike Shanahan and asked out because he didn’t want his bad mood to bring the team down.
That perspective led to Lynch deciding it was best to let Bowman go.
“I truly do feel it’s best for Bo, for him to go and have an opportunity somewhere where if someone brings him in, I will imagine they will have a role and that role will be easier,” Lynch said. “It’s harder to do in the place you’ve been. It’s just the way it is. And having lived through that, I think we were able to have a discussion last night, the three of us, and I told him, I’ve been exactly where you’re at. And that’s what contributes to my opinion that it’s best for everyone.”
In 89 career games, Bowman has 808 tackles, 12 1/2 sacks, four interceptions, seven forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 28 passes defensed. Bowman led the team in tackles four times in the past six years.
NOTES: FB Kyle Juszczyk (back) is out for Sunday’s game. … Foster, S Eric Reid (knee), S Adrian Colbert (hamstring), LB Dekoda Watson (groin) and CB Ahkello Witherspoon (concussion) are all questionable.
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