Sunday will be NaVorro Bowman’s 10th game as a member of the Oakland Raiders. It could also be his last. Though that’s not what he wants and certainly not what the Raiders should want either.
The former three-time All Pro was cut by the 49ers five games into the season in favor of their youth movement which featured Reuben Foster. Days later, the 29-year-old crossed the bay to fill the Raiders seemingly ever present void at middle linebacker.
Since he first suited up for the Raiders in week seven, he instantly upgraded the Raiders middle linebacker spot. Over his 10 games in Oakland, he has led the team in tackles 9 times.
“There’s still things that I can learn in this defense,” Bowman said Friday via the Mercury News. “I’m known for my instincts throughout the NFL and I haven’t been able to really use those instincts in this defense because I don’t really know it.
“I don’t know when I can take those chances. I don’t know who’s backing me up in certain calls. So if I’m able to come back next year and get a full training camp in and get used to really communicating with every single guy on the field, I’ll be able to do a lot more.”
Bowman’s impact on his teammates is immeasurable. The discussion tends to revolve around John Pagano taking over as the defensive play caller for the fired Ken Norton Jr, but having Bowman as the man on the field setting his teammates is crucial to any defense functioning at a high level.
“It’s obvious,” Bruce Irvin said in early December of what Bowman brought to the team. “The guy flies around, takes control of the huddle. You see it, you see the difference from when he wasn’t here and how our defense performed to now. He’s a great competitor, a great leader. I’m just happy to have him.”
Due to two serious injuries Bowman suffered which caused him to miss the entire 2014 season (torn ACL/MCL) and 12 games in 2016 (torn Achilles), the concern was that he would never be the same; that he’d lost a step and was no longer an every down linebacker.
He put an end to that talk by seeing nearly every single snap since taking over the job with just three practices under his belt. In total he has played 573 of the teams 586 defensive snaps (97.8%).
It was our stance in early December that the team begin thinking about locking in Bowman long term. That stance has strengthened in the past few weeks, despite the team’s current three-game losing streak.
Last week in Philadelphia, the Raiders had arguably their best defensive effort of the season, staying tied with the Eagles 10-10 late in the 4th quarter despite the Raiders’ offense turning the ball over four times.
With Bowman having not hit 30 years of age yet, he should still have some years left in him. He is currently 13th in the NFL with 113 tackles and that was while missing a game after the 49ers cut him.
As noted earlier this month, there are several current full time starting NFL linebackers who are well over 30 including Karlos Dansby (36), Derrick Johnson (35), Paul Posluszny (33), Wesley Woodyard (31), Lawrence Timmons (31), and Sean Lee (31).
Based on his level of play right now, a 3-year deal with no guaranteed money after two years — a standard type of contract from Reggie McKenzie -- would be ideal to keep the Raiders stout defensive signal caller in a Raiders uniform and allow them time to find the eventual long(er) term solution.