Navorro Bowman is a key linebacker that should still be considered for IDP this year depending on where he lands. The best spot for him would be in a 4-3 defense and could be a key part of the Arizona Cardinals defense.
A major date is right around the corner for the NFL, June 1st marks a major accounting shift for player salaries who are cut. Teams have the option of designating up to two players who will be released from the team after that date, and in turn any guaranteed money gets postponed to the following year’s dead cap.
This means players are added to the free agency pool, and money is added to team coffers. A last minute feeding frenzy ensues as teams fill out their rosters with last minute vets before training camp.
One of the highest profile free agent veterans still available that IDP (individual defensive player) fantasy football players should be keeping a close eye on is middle linebacker Navorro Bowman. He became a free agent after spending last season with the Oakland Raiders.
Coming off an Achilles tear, the San Francisco 49ers cut Bowman in October of last season, unexpectedly. While he wasn’t young (turning 30 this year), he was still producing with double digit tackle totals in two games for the 49ers that year. San Francisco was obviously wanting to give the position to their newly acquired rookie Reuben Foster.
Missing only one game in 2017 due to the cut (week 6), and one game due to bye (week 10), Bowman was able to put together a season with 127 total tackles. He ranked as linebacker 11 by the season end, even after coming off a major injury, dealing with a team change, and missing a week. Depending on where Bowman ends up for 2018, he could still be in the conversation to be a mid LB1 sleeper if he lands in a 4-3 defense.
Teams In A 4-3 Defensive Scheme
There are nine teams in the league that run a 4-3 defense, and two teams switching to a 4-3. All nine teams have a solid starter at MLB this coming season. All cap numbers gotten from spotrac.com and are current as of May 25th, situations are subject to change on June 2nd.
Dallas Cowboys: Sean Lee is an effective middle linebacker when healthy, and Dallas drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the NFL Draft this season incase of Lee getting injured, which is common. Bowman would be too expensive for the Cowboys who have only $5 mil in cap space left, and wouldn’t spend that on a backup.
Atlanta Falcons: Deion Jones is the rockstar of their linebacker corps. He is a top tier IDP option and runs that defense alongside Vic Beasley at edge rush. Jones is going into his third NFL season and Beasley his fourth, neither would be supplanted by Bowman who is trying to make the most of his twilight seasons in the league. Falcon’s cap is at $7 mil.
Minnesota Vikings: Eric Kendricks is another young linebacker with control of his defense. The Minnesota defense is starting to age, and with that comes cap issues, but it is still a year or two off before that affects the linebacker corps. By then Bowman will probably not be in the league any longer, or if he is, will be on the tail end of a three-year contract where he got paid by another team and is considering retirement. Vikings cap is at $18 mil.
Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly is nearing Bowman’s age, and having more health problems with the numerous concussions he has dealt with in his career. That hasn’t stopped Kuechly to be considered one of the top linebackers in the league. When he has missed games, teammate Shaq Thompson has stepped in and filled the gap as a versatile player. Unless Kuechly unexpectedly retires in the next month, I don’t see a place for Bowman in this corps. Panthers cap is at $1 mil.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati made a play in free agency already for a linebacker in Preston Brown formerly of the Buffalo Bills. Brown will play with often suspended Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil. There are clearly no holes in this linebacker corps that would support a second signing, especially with the depth Cincinnati has after drafting Malik Jefferson in the third round this year. Bengal’s cap is at $15 mil.
Jacksonville Jaguars: A team that should be referenced by no other name than Sacksonville because of their oft dominate defense, lost a key piece in the offseason when MLB Paul Posluszny retired. This allows Myles Jack to start at middle linebacker. Jack is a good IDP option this year, and will be between Telvin Smith and Blair Brown. If the Jags were worried about their LBs (which I doubt) they could make a play for Bowman, but personally I think that would be overkill and the team could spend the money elsewhere (like getting a QB…). Jags cap is at $14 mil.
Oakland Raiders: Bowman’s former team offered him a contract, which he turned down looking to test the market. So the Raiders went out and signed Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson. While Oakland has said the door is always open to get talent like Bowman’s, this door seems to be slammed shut. Raiders cap is at $5 mil.
New Orleans Saints:The Saints don’t exactly have a top tier linebacker corps, but did make a move to get former Jets linebacker DeMario Davis in the offseason. Davis had a good season last year mopping up after a terrible Jets offense. He comes from a good situation to a lesser situation. If Bowman doesn’t get signed, and the Saints LBs aren’t pulling their weight, a conversation could be had for Bowman getting a job mid season in New Orleans. Saints cap is at $3.9 mil.
San Francisco 49ers: This team just dodged a bullet with the court case against their star linebacker Reuben Foster, whom they have invested both a first round pick in 2017 and fired their former star Navorro Bowman for. If there isn’t bad blood between San Fran and Bowman, I congratulate him for being a bigger person. That said Foster still has to deal with a marijuana charge which will lead to a suspension. Their 2018 third round pick Fred Warner looks like an interesting player to keep an eye on during that time. 49ers cap is at $37 mil.
Teams Switching To A 4-3 Defensive Scheme
Indianapolis Colts: The Indianapolis Colts linebacker situation is so dire going into this season that they used four picks in the 2018 draft on linebackers. Getting Kemoko Turay and Darius Leonard in the second, and Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin in the seventh. According to ourlads.com the rookies are slotted as backups to John Simon from Houston, Anthony Walker (last year’s fifth round pick), and Antonio Morrison (fourth rounder two years ago).
This group of linebackers aren’t really impressive. Morrison being talked about in the IDP community as a possible stash due to his role at MLB and the situation he finds himself in. From a football perspective, if he doesn’t step up he is looking to be replaced and if the new Colts LBs don’t pan out then they have a serious problem.
What is working in the Colts favor is having hired a new head coach, and in turn getting Matt Eberflus who is the former Dallas Cowboys linebackers coach. This means that he might be able to make solid linebackers out of the players he has, though it might also mean he convinces Frank Reich to pursue a linebacker in free agency that could be a difference maker.
As of late May the Colts have about $52 mil in cap left to spend, so if they decide they want someone it’s more than likely they will get them. There is a chance that Bowman could be pursued by the Colts, if they feel they just need a couple years to get their other players up to speed and are looking for a veteran presence.
Arizona Cardinals: Arizona didn’t spend any draft capital this year on the linebackers, spending most of their picks on offensive holes that were glaring. This wasn’t surprising as their defense is littered with top IDP fantasy names. But what is even more glaring is the name slotted at middle linebacker, Josh Bynes. Between big name players like Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick is a player who was a backup in the talent poor Detroit Lions linebackers of 2016.
Bynes was someone that Detroit Lions fans were hopeful to reach his potential while with the Lions, especially with how bad Tahir Whitehead was in coverage at middle linebacker. That lead to the Lions drafting Jarrad Davis in the following draft, and when Bynes had his chance in 2016 he didn’t impress. He was then signed by the Cardinals and during 2017 he played in 14 games and started one. For the entire season he made only 34 total tackles and had one sack and one interception.
Having been with three teams so far in the NFL, his best season was for the Lions in 2015 where he started 11 games and had a total of 80 tackles. He is turning 29 years old this season, which means this is his last chance if he makes it through training camp. The Cardinals did give Bynes a three-year deal in March so smart money would be on him making the team, but if Arizona doesn’t address that middle linebacker role Bynes will be a fantasy viable option because he will be a black hole in the middle of that defense.
Also with the switch to a 4-3, there will be less help in the linebacker corps if a player isn’t fulfilling his potential. There is already concern that Haason Reddick could have a slow adjustment to the new scheme, being only in his second season and now making a major switch. This would leave Deone Bucannon as the force on one side of the field, causing quarterbacks to target the opposing side. A lopsided defense like that will produce tackles, but will also cause teams to make personnel changes.
The addition of Bowman in this defense could solidify two-thirds of that corps and provide veteran help for Reddick in the scheme switch. The hole in the middle of that defense would be patched up, and the defense could be relied on to help a rookie quarterback gain his feet in the league. Bynes could maintain a roster spot, being an above average backup who can make sure there isn’t a drastic talent drop off if injuries occur. In IDP terms, don’t spend a lot of capital on Bynes till the coming free agency period is over.
The Cardinals aren’t exactly strapped for cash at $13 mil, but won’t be able to compete with the likes of Indianapolis. They should however have a more attractive situation to woo Bowman, a team that could have a solid chance in the near future and the opportunity to make San Francisco pay two times a year.
Where Will Bowman Go?
This is where the hard part comes in, trying to discern where a player might sign. There is no way I could know, unless I had some direct line with his agent. But, I can describe the situations from his point of view and compare.
He likely is looking to get paid in this free agency period, considering he turned down what was probably a low Raiders offer. Since he proved himself this past season, and since he is aging, he probably is looking for a longer deal (maybe three years) that could take him to retirement. I’d expect that he wants a shot at a title in those three years, rather than a place where he has little chance of glory. Also considering he made no attempt to leave the west coast after being cut from the 49ers, I’d expect him wanting to stay in that part of the country with his family.
My prediction is that Navorro Bowman lands in Arizona on a three year deal and a moderate salary. If this happens I see Bowman as a upper-tier LB2 and a draft able player this year and next.