Third-round draft picks carry boulder-like chip on their shoulders, just ask
But another San Francisco 49ers third-round pick, 2011 All-Pro linebacker
The chip will stick with the third-year linebacker even after Tuesday’s big news: A five-year contract extension that’ll keep Bowman in a 49ers uniform through the 2018 season.
“These coaches and teams that passed up on me, it drives me,” said Bowman, San Francisco’s leading tackler with 129 stops on the year. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say it didn’t. I knew the type of player I was coming out of Penn St. and had goals to reach.
“Now that this is done and the success I’ve been having throughout my time, I just want to continue showing that it’s really real. I know how to play the linebacker position and the 49ers got a great one.”
With Bowman, the No. 91 overall selection in 2010, continuing his All-Pro play into the 2012 season, the 49ers lead the NFL in scoring defense (14.1 points per game). They also rank second in total defense (278.4 yards per game) and fourth in rush defense (91.1 yards per game).
It’s likely that Bowman (337 career tackles, 4.0 sacks, three fumble recoveries and one interception) could have likely fielded bigger offers had he waited to become a free agent, but ultimately, he decided cementing a defensive legacy with the 49ers was where he was best served to be.
“It means a lot,” Bowman said of the extension that’ll keep the team’s four starting linebacker together though the 2015 season. “I’ve wanted to be here since the first day I got here. For me to get this done and to be here through 2018, it’s just a great thing. A lot of people were behind this happening and I just want to thank them for that. I’m just excited to continue on, get this out the way and focus on the season.”
It was more than a relief to Bowman.
“We’re able to get it out the way, get it done and focus on football,” he said.
But even as much as the standout linebacker wants to move on to Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams, the special moment in his life is certainly appreciated. It’s not such a bad thing to soak up.
Once terms to the five-year extension were agreed upon early in the morning, Bowman couldn’t help but share the big news with fellow All-Pro inside linebacker and Godfather to his twin daughters,
“He was excited as soon as I told him this morning when I wasn’t supposed to,” Bowman said, earning a chuckle from the reporters attending his press conference. “I couldn’t keep it from him. I think he’s a reason for this happening, me playing beside him. For me and him to be playing together for the next three years, for sure, it’s just a great thing.”
Willis, himself, knew the talks were ongoing between Bowman and the 49ers, but was still surprised to hear the big news from his close friend, the one he first got to know two years ago when the two roomed together in training camp.
“He told me earlier this morning after we worked out,” Willis shared. “He said, ‘I did it.’ And I was looking at him like, ‘What did you do?’”
Once Bowman shared the contact information, Willis was elated.
“I know he’d told me they’d been in talks and I just want to say I know today is a very blessed day, not only for this organization, but for NaVorro and his family,” said Willis, who is signed through the 2016 season. “I know he’s going to play hard, continue to do all the things right to become an even better player. I’m truly blessed to have him here for a long time.”
Opponents might feel differently about San Francisco keeping its starting linebacking group intact for three more years after this season, but the players themselves know there’s a bigger task at hand: Win the Super Bowl now.
“All I can think about is taking advantage of the opportunity now, not banking on next year or the year after,” Willis explained. “Things happen and you never know about this business. All we can control is right now.”
Bowman felt comfortable with the deal, but more importantly, the support from the 49ers organization – the same team that saw something in him that other teams didn’t.
“It shows the organization trusts me,” Bowman said. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Willis certainly knows how much pride his teammate has for working at his craft and mastering the game of football. He doesn’t expect it to go anywhere.
“There’s no doubt he’ll continue to do that and do that at an even higher level,” Willis said. “He’s a tremendous guy and I know his heart is pure. I know he loves this game. I know it’s all about football.”
So with two-hard working inside linebackers locked up for three-plus seasons, it’s hard not to wonder what type of defensive legacy the 49ers can carve out in the coming years.
“It’s not about money,” Bowman said when explaining the timing and reasoning of the extension. “At the end of the day we all play this game and we get paid a good amount of money, but all in all, people remember you for the wins, the teams you were a part of.”
Willis said legacy isn’t stressed by the group; it’s just something that goes unspoken.
“It’s not something we sit around and talk about. It’s just one of those things we go out on the field and do. We let our play speak for itself. Coach always talks about actions speak louder than words – anyone can talk a great story – but to have lived it is better than to talk about it.”
So far, the 49ers linebackers have lived a pretty remarkable tale.
“We have a chance to do something really special with all four linebackers that we know for sure being here,” Bowman said. “We can definitely make a statement for ourselves and a great legacy for our defense.”
But before Bowman can continue carving out his remarkable career, he’ll have to take care of his friend first.
Willis insists he’ll ask Bowman to take him and his fiancée out to eat.
“Go somewhere super, super nice,” Willis said with a grin.
As for the meal?
“A medium-plus steak with probably a lobster tail, a little surf-and-turf deal,” Willis said. “Some good mashed potatoes and vegetables… and some ice cream for dessert.”
Good thing money isn’t an issue for Bowman any more. But in reality, it really was never a sticking point.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about what you do on the field that people will measure you by.”