Kawakami: How the 49ers have misplayed the Nick Bosa situation and why it’s time to break all precedents


Nick Bosa and his agent, along with their counterparts on the 49ers’ side, have kept quiet throughout this long, long negotiating process and apparent eve-of-season stalemate with the 49ers.

But maybe Bosa’s camp should’ve fired off some very non-diplomatic blasts by now, anonymously or not. Maybe even a hint of a potential trade request. Just to shake things up a little. Add some real anxiety. Get things moving. (Hey, it worked for the Deebo Samuel situation more than a year ago.)

The 49ers, meanwhile, have kept quiet also, except for all the times they’ve said that they expect a huge new Bosa deal to get done in due time. And general manager John Lynch has most pointedly swatted down any thought that a continued deadlock might, at some point, prompt them to consider a Bosa trade.

But, with the season-opener in Pittsburgh now just days away, maybe Lynch and Kyle Shanahan shouldn’t have been so tranquil about this situation this whole time. Maybe they should’ve seemed more anxious and agitated. Maybe they should be extremely anxious and agitated right now and let everybody know it. Including Bosa and his agent.

Pressure bursts pipes, and sometimes extreme pressure is the only way to finish off a huge negotiation.

Again, I’ll go back to the Deebo situation last summer, when he issued a public trade request, wiped the 49ers from his social-media accounts and generally tried to make the 49ers as uncomfortable as possible. And I can tell you, most everybody inside 49ers HQ was uncomfortable for those months. They weren’t feeling good about Deebo’s commitment to offseason workouts while he was upset at the team. They considered trading Deebo. They muttered about him putting it out there in public. But in the end, Deebo was too important to trade, and the two sides agreed to a three-year, $71.5 million extension near the start of the 2022 training camp.

It got difficult between Deebo and the 49ers. Everybody got through it. Then it got done. And we’ll have to see how and when the Bosa deal is settled, and for what terms and with what team.

But right now, I think the 49ers are guilty of feeling too comfortable about Bosa, too serene about his commitment to stay in shape while away from the team, too complacent about Bosa’s desire to be with his teammates and take another deep postseason run and too relaxed about their best player’s near- and long-term future. They rightly weren’t worried about Bosa’s work ethic, but I think that, in their minds, took the pressure off of the mid-August negotiations, which, it turns out, needed the pressure. In some quiet ways, the 49ers seem to have been assuming that Bosa would compromise at a number below what he and his agent have requested. Guess what: I don’t think that’s happening.

And now it’s threatening not only Week 1 and whatever other time Bosa misses, but the attitude around the 49ers’ locker room for the entire season and beyond.

Because everybody from Christian McCaffrey to Fred Warner to Brock Purdy to Deebo to the fourth-string tight end understands that Bosa is a generational talent. That the 49ers will never be able to replace him, whether it’s for one game or a hundred games. That he is almost certainly seeking the largest contract ever given to a non-quarterback, and that he is worth it. And, probably most importantly, that Bosa comes from a family that does not back down in these negotiations; just check his brother Joey Bosa’s negotiations with the Chargers for evidence of this.

GO DEEPER

A look at how badly the 49ers need Nick Bosa, whose holdout continues

There are, of course, realistic boundaries for what the 49ers can pay Bosa. They have a stacked roster full of players with large cap hits or soon-to-be-large cap hits. The front office has continued to acquire excellent players even through the cap squeeze, which only tightens everything. Smart teams negotiate hard, even with their best players, because every cap dollar saved can be used elsewhere. And the 49ers have certainly negotiated hard over the years, mostly without causing rancor or distrust. The proof is in the roster.

But even if Bosa is asking for the moon, stars and a few extra galaxies, I guarantee there would be three or four teams raising their hands to pay it — and trade the 49ers a ton of draft picks — if the 49ers decide they won’t meet Bosa’s price. That’s what happened with the 49ers and DeForest Buckner in the 2020 offseason and the Colts agreed to the trade and a new contract for Buckner in about 20 seconds. And the 49ers don’t want to be the kind of team that has to do this twice.

The 49ers want to be a team that wins Super Bowls, and Jed York wants to be known as the owner who is willing to pay what it takes to do that. York has paid extravagantly for this roster. So it would be silly to draw the line — after paying Deebo and blowing apart the tight-end market for George Kittle and topping the market for Trent Williams and adding McCaffrey and trading away Trey Lance because a win-now team can’t take the time to develop a young QB, even as a third-stringer — at a new Bosa deal.

If paying Bosa what he wants — say, guaranteeing $120 million, which would be $46 million more than the 49ers have previously guaranteed any player (Jimmy Garoppolo got $74 million in guarantees in his 2018 deal) — breaks the 49ers’ moderate precedent for non-QBs and sets up a line of players demanding larger guarantees, so what? You can reset the precedent with them after the Bosa Exception. That’s the way it goes when you’re chasing a Super Bowl and Bosa isn’t budging.

If it takes Shanahan and Lynch telling York or executive vice president Paraag Marathe that it’s time to stand down on this one, that should’ve happened a few weeks ago. If it means the 49ers might have to shed two or three big contracts in the near future for cap reasons, that’s just the way it goes when the NFL Defensive Player of the Year is holding out. If York has to go deeper into his coffers than he wants, well, the 49ers make enormous profits every year. If things have to get uncomfortable for the 49ers, that’s actually how they should’ve approached this in the first place.

This probably always was going to be a nervous deal for the 49ers. Maybe a bit of a scary deal. Certainly an unprecedented one. But York, Lynch and Shanahan shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. This is the business they’re in.

And if the cost of keeping Nick Bosa is too much, what’s the point of all this, anyway?

“The TK Show”: Go to Tim Kawakami’s podcast page on Apple, Spotify and The Athletic app.

(Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)





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