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Jon Gruden sure sounds like Raiders could let NaVorro Bowman become free agent

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

Here we go again. The Raiders are in a shaky situation at middle linebacker. An annual occurrence in recent years in Oakland. It’s the situation they were in early last season before signing NaVorro Bowman. He was the answer to their prayers which would seem to make it a pretty good idea to keep him around. If you read into Gruden’s words Wednesday morning at the combine, it doesn’t sound like Bowman will return.

“Obviously, defensively there are some glaring needs at this time,” Gruden said. “Free agency hasn’t started yet, but our linebacking corps we’ve got a lot of questions there. Navarro Bowman is a free agent. Looking for an inside pass rusher to step up. Our secondary, we’ve got to clean that up. But I think most importantly, with the Raiders, just looking at our last three drafts, we need some young people to emerge and start playing -- a lot -- for this football team.”

Putting linebacker atop the team’s need areas and already listing Bowman as a free agent, even though he is still on the roster at this time isn’t a great sign. Adding that Gruden is looking for the young players (Bowman will turn 30 next month) to step up also suggests the Raiders could be moving on from Bowman.

New Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther said last month that he would like Bowman back calling the team’s leading tackler “a prototype middle linebacker” and adding “Hopefully we can get him back in the fold and keep him a Raider.”

Later Wednesday Reggie McKenzie mentioned Bowman among several of the team’s free agents as a player the tam would like to have return along with Denico Autry and Lee Smith. But that doesn’t mean the team will be locking any of them up before they can hit the market.

It’s entirely possible the Raiders do want Bowman back, but he could want to test his market value before making his decision. And at this stage of Bowman’s career, that usually means finding a team willing to offer him a multiyear deal. Hey, who knows, with the issues the 49ers are having with Bowman’s replacement, Reuben Foster, he could head back to San Francisco. He certainly proved in the final ten games of last season that he can still play at a high level.