49ers Extend Bowman?

In one of the odder moves I can recall the San Francisco 49ers have reportedly signed linebacker NaVorro Bowman to a four year. $44 million extension. Bowman is pretty much a lock to be an All Pro player each year and was already on a $9 million a year contract so the money isnt odd, but the fact that he had three years left under his current contract makes and extension come out as kind of strange. Rarely do teams open up contracts when there are so many years remaining. So Im really curious as to what they did here and why they did it but Ill just throw a few suggestions out since I find this pretty fascinating.

One thing to note is that this is not the first time the 49ers have made a move like this. They tacked on an additional two years to Joe Staley’s contract a few years back to bring his “new money” in line with the top tackles in the NFL. I never valued his contract that way as I think he had 4 years remaining on his contract when the 49ers signed the deal. I dont think there was really anything more for them in that deal than just doing good for one of their core players.  That deal included option years in part to protect their free agency rights with comp picks and I would not be surprised if this contract followed the same design. So it may just be as simple as bringing Bowman back into the top tier salary range to do right by the player.

The first thought I had was that perhaps the 49ers were close to the CBA spending limits and needed to increase their salary spending to meet the threshold by next March. I know the last two seasons the 49ers have been pretty low in cash spending relative to the rest of the NFL, but the 2013 and 2014 seasons should have compensated for that. They did end up with some returned money from retirements, missed games, etc… that may have made it closer than I thought. By effectively turning the next three years of salary into a bonus the team would definitely be well over the spending limit, even if they found some sucker to take on the entire contract of their quarterback.

The other idea that I had was that maybe the 49ers just wanted to use up huge amounts of cap room, which I estimate to be in the ballpark of $49 million.  In the past when the 49ers had huge surpluses like this they got very creative with some of their big name players. What they did was basically put void control in the hands of the player which allowed all future signing bonus money to accelerate into the current league year. The money was all dumped in one season making all future cap considerations to simply be the same as the cash number. The biggest benefit came with Patrick Willis with this strategy as they had the best linebacker in the NFL for well under the salary cap market value. I always thought those moves the Niners did helped them build a roster with a good deal of depth which helped them get to those NFC title games and the one Super Bowl.

While they certainly did not need to add another 4 years to do that from a team perspective the more control you can have the better. The $22 million guarantee that has been reported more or less matches his current salary for the next three years so it would not be surprising if they actually gave him pretty little in additional money over the original contract years. Four added years I think also lends credence to the possibility of option years that can give the Niners a chance to send him into free agency at some point by declining the option. I would also think that any new guarantees will be covered by an insurance policy that Bowman is probably required to purchase.