A hat tip to Tre9er from Niners Nation for getting to this before I was able to - but I wanted to take a look at San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman anyway. Bowman had a career year for the 49ers, and actually brought up tangible discussion about whether or not he was on par with Patrick Willis. It's been well-documented, but it's worth noting again that Bowman was mistaken for Willis more than once while making a high-impact play in 2011.
The 49ers didn't just have the best group of inside linebackers in the NFL, you can definitely argue that they have the No. 1 and No. 2 linebackers in the NFL. Well, unless you think that season was a fluke, but going by 2011 and 2011 alone, this writer believes it to be true.
As noted above in the hat tip, Bowman will eventually need to get paid. The 49ers can probably have one of the best groups of inside linebackers in the league without Bowman, simply because they have Willis, but their entire defense is built on those guys making things happen on every single play. Bowman is locked up through the end of 2013, but how close do the 49ers get to that date before they decided they need to give him some serious money?
Some might say you can't pay two inside linebackers top dollar, but when they have the all-around skills of Willis and Bowman, of course you can. Now, let's look at how much Bowman is currently making, on his rookie deal, shall we? Bowman will have a cap hit of just over $720 thousand in 2012 - an absolute bargain.
To compare, the 49ers are set to pay Ryan Pontbriand, Josh Johnson, Alex Boone, Rock Cartwright, C.J. Spillman, Brian Jennings, Colin Kaepernick and 27 other players more than that amount in 2012. Larry Grant, the backup inside linebacker, is set to make more on his restricted free agent tender at the seventh-round level than Bowman in 2012.
Those numbers are outrageous, or would be if Bowman hasn't started just a single season, but it's still somewhat shocking. Two of the players on that list are long snappers. Don't be surprised if the 49ers start talking extension with Bowman late in the 2012 season, providing he's kept up his production. There's a solid chance he'll stick around for slightly less if the 49ers keep their mantra of returning defensive starters, and who wouldn't want to keep playing next to Willis?