The Costs of Trading NaVorro Bowman

Edit: So a few minutes after posting this the 49ers released NaVorro Bowman. Bowman’s salary for the year is protected but if he requested the release maybe there is some waiver in there regarding his ability to collect on his $4.7 million guarantee or his termination pay rights. My guess is there is not and the only money the 49ers save this year is $515,625 in bonus money that did not currently count on the cap but would have been earned weekly from here on out, plus any offset on the $2.3M remaining salary guarantee. The 49ers did pay him a bonus this year but considering he was cut and not quitting they wont have the right to recover on that. His dead money for next season will be the amount referenced below at $4.774 million. If I hear otherwise about his dead money this year Ill fix it but for now I would assume the 49ers are on the hook for his entire $6.75 million salary and will get some credits next year if he doesnt invoke his termination pay rights and/or has some salary offset when he signs with someone else for the balance of the year.

The rumor mill was circulating today that the 49ers are looking to trade linebacker NaVorro Bowman and that has led to a number of contract questions so let’s try to answer them here.

Bowman has one of the more complicated contracts in the league and it is one of the oddest timed signings I can recall. Bowman signed this new contract just last August when he had 3 years remaining on his existing contract, which is almost unheard of happening for a veteran player. I’m not sure what the logic was for it then and the desire to trade him also opens up more criticism for some 49ers front office moves. Despite the fact that the 49ers were clearly headed to disaster last year even before the season began they continued to make signings like this and later an extension for tight end Vance McDonald. McDonald was traded this year and now Bowman may be next. San Francisco also spent more money than any team in the NFL this offseason on free agents who failed to make the team. So why the moves were made is a big question mark.

Trading Bowman would open up some money for the 49ers, though they don’t really need it at this point. If they traded Bowman next week they would open up $4,367,647 in cap room and also avoid another $468,750 in bonus money from being earned. Bowman, who received signing bonuses in multiple years following his 2012 extension, would have $4.774 million in dead money next year if he is traded. After accounting for the dead money the 49ers would create an added $7.22 million in cap space.

Right now I have the 49ers cap space estimate for 2018 to be about $112 million so with Bowman gone, unless they take on a big contract in his place, they would be close to $123 million in projected cap room. Obviously they are linked to Kirk Cousins in free agency and this kind of room can allow them to create a contract that other teams may not be able to match in first and second year cash unless they use a massive signing bonus. Beside the possibility of Washington using a tag one would think that the Jaguars would also be in the mix and they are always a concern when it comes to contracts.

For an acquiring team the contract becomes more complex. They would need to have the $4.367 million in cap space to execute the trade and $4.83 million to account for him playing out the season. The teams that would be eliminated or close to eliminated from doing that, based on our estimates, are the Patriots, Cardinals, Steelers, Panthers, Chiefs, Ravens, Giants, Rams, Seahawks, Dolphins, Falcons, and Saints. Now those teams could restructure the contract of a player on the team to open up more room, but that’s usually not an advisable move this late in the year.

Bowman has a $3.45 million injury guarantee next season which vests to full on April 1, when the team has to pay a $3.45 million bonus. That bonus is rare to see in a traded contract and would be prorated when paid so a team trading for Bowman could potentially be taking on prorated bonus money starting next year. His total salary next year would be $12.9 million which is very high for the position, especially when you consider Bowman’s injury history and the fact that he will be 30 next year. Only $750,000 of that salary wont be paid if he is injured. In 2019 the contract has a cheap year at just $4.55 million in compensation, $2 million of which is tied to being healthy. That is very reasonable.

In glancing at his contract a team would likely have to hope they can get 2 or 3 more years out of Bowman which would make the investment work out to around $7.5 million a year.  Given his age that’s risky and I think a team would want to find a way to lower his 2018 salary to protect themselves better. Considering he doesn’t really play a big impact position this is a lot to ask someone to trade for unless they are simply decimated by injury at linebacker and need someone good to play the position. Its hard to see someone trading for him on the contract.

Would Bowman have been easier to trade if there was no extension?  Maybe. His salary this year was the same but next year would not have had the guarantee nor the $3.45 million bonus. But over $9 million is still pretty expensive so I don’t think it would have had that kind of impact.