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Why the 49ers released NaVorro Bowman instead of trading him

This move made sense, as much as it hurts fans.

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 49ers released veteran linebacker NaVorro Bowman on Friday. It was a surprising move, because teams don’t often release three-time All-Pro players on the right side of 30 very often, but the move was actually exceedingly nice to Bowman, and something we don’t see often in the NFL.

On Friday 49ers GM John Lynch released the following statement on the decision to cut Bowman:

“NaVorro gave his heart and soul to this team for the last eight years, and for that we are all extremely grateful,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in a statement. “During that time, NaVorro was a key component of one of the best teams in the league and his passion for the game allowed him to quickly become a favorite of our faithful fans.

There were reports last week that the 49ers were trying to find a trade partner for Bowman, and on Sunday morning it emerged that the team actually had a deal in place with the Saints on the trade — but ultimately decided to cut their veteran instead.

Why did the 49ers cut Bowman instead of trading him?

Because they’re being nice to him. Seriously, that’s the only reason. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter the 49ers had agreed to the deal that would send Bowman to New Orleans in exchange for a seventh-round pick, but after talking to him they learned he wanted to choose his own team, rather than be traded — so they cut him.

So they just gave him what he wanted?

Yep. Think of it like a reward for his services. Bowman had been a staple of the team for the last seven years, and a fan favorite. In the end, the 49ers decided it would be better to just cut him and let him become a free agent than possibly deal with ill will while he went to a team he didn’t want to play for.

Why get rid of him at all?

It’s a combination of factors. Bowman has been dealing with injuries over the past few years, missing all of 2014 with ACL and MCL tears, then missing all of 2016 with an Achilles injury. The biggest reason is that the 49ers have a promising rookie waiting in the wings (first round pick Reuben Foster) and Bowman would have been a $12 million cap hit in 2018 if he remained on the roster.

This lets the 49ers move forward and give Foster reps as he returns from his own injury, and the team can prep for 2018 — because at this point they’re 0-5 and done this season.

Where could Bowman go?

Bowman is expected to visit the Raiders first, a team which has a lot of appeal. It would allow him to stay in Northern California, and land on a team with a shot of making the playoffs. However, there are plenty of other parties who are interested according to Schefter.

The 49ers reportedly spoke to the Saints, Ravens, Browns and Panthers about trading Bowman — which means it’s a rich market. If he’s solely interested in joining a team pushing for a playoff run then the Panthers (4-2) or Ravens (3-2) make the most sense.

Did the 49ers make the right decision?

Yes. The decision to release Bowman was obviously difficult, but it was truly the best thing for both the team and the player. In reality, a seventh-round pick is next to nothing, especially when it could come at the expense of angering a fan-favorite player.

It sucks for fans to see a player this good get released for nothing, but doing right by players is a rare quality teams don’t show very often, and you never know how this kind of goodwill can help sway prospective players and agents when free agency comes around.