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Raiders should start thinking about locking up NaVorro Bowman long term

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s well past time for the Raiders to stop messing around at the middle linebacker position. They finally appear to have someone who is a proven, productive leader at the position and they mustn’t squander that.

NaVorrow Bowman has been with the Raiders six games now. When he was released by the 49ers, the Raiders swiped him up quickly and made him the starter just three days after he arrived. That move has paid off.

Bowman has already put up 52 tackles for the Raiders, and has been the team’s leading tackler five out of his six games in Oakland.

Despite the Raiders brass seeming to put no importance on the position, playing middle linebacker in the NFL is not easy. They call it the quarterback of the defense for a reason.

Bowman’s first game with the Raiders came in week seven against the Chiefs. It was the game that snapped their 4-game losing streak. They’ve gone 4-2 since then, including two of their best games the past two weeks to bring them back 6-6 on the season with a share of the lead in the AFC West.

How much Bowman’s addition has made to the improved record is hard to say. But at least in the past two weeks Bowman has been outstanding, first pulling in the team’s first (and still their only) interception of the season against Denver on what was a touchdown saving play, and then recovering the fumble last week on Bruce Irvin’s strip sack versus the Giants.

“Anytime I see the ball, I have to go get it,” Bowman said after the Giants game. “I gave the ball to Bruce [Irvin] because if he didn’t do what he did, I wouldn’t have gotten it. That’s just what it has to become, a team effort, everybody understanding we need all of those guys at all times.”

“It’s obvious,” Bruce Irvin said of what Bowman has 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.”

Pass defense was Bowman’s primary criticism, and said to be part of the reason he was released by the 49ers. Lately he has shown plenty of prowess in that area while exhibiting his usual run stopping abilities. That’s to say nothing of his demeanor and locker room presence which is exactly what you want from your middle linebacker.

“He’s a good football player,” Jack Del Rio said Monday. “He’s got experience. He’s had a calming influence. He loves to play. You feel him on gameday. He’s very much in control. I think he’s been a calming influence for some of our younger players.”

Even with all the praise, when talking about Bowman, you would think he’s in his mid-thirties, approaching retirement. He’s still just 29 years of age.

The reason he seems like he’s been around forever is because he’s been really good for basically his entire career. He’s a four-time All Pro (2011-15). The first three years of that he was the leader of a 49ers defense that appeared in 8 playoff games, including a trip to the Super Bowl.

How the Raiders were able to get such a proven competitor is fairly simple. Coming off a couple of major leg injuries, the 49ers drafted Reuben Foster and in the beginning stages of their rebuild, they wanted to get the young guy into the lineup. Bowman’s release was the right thing to do to allow him to find another team. He didn’t have to go far to find it and doesn’t even need to change residences if he doesn’t want to.

Two other times in recent memory the Raiders added a free agent player and gave him an extension. Including another former 49er who was on a one-year deal. Michael Crabtree was given a long term deal midway through that season back in 2015. David Amerson was signed off waivers early in 2015 and was extended the following offseason with a year left on his contract.

Several current fulltime starting NFL linebackers are well over 30 including Karlos Dansby (36), Derrick Johnson (35), Paul Posluszny (33), Wesley Woodyard (31), Lawrence Timmons (31), and Sean Lee (31), so a 2-3 year deal would be a reasonable possibility. And it would allow the Raiders plenty of time to draft and develop a solution at that spot as the heir apparent.


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