April 13, 2024
Kyle Shanahan has a losing record without Nick Bosa and competes for Super Bowls with him. Getting him signed should be the Niners' top priority.

SANTA CLARA — We all know how this ends for Nick Bosa and the 49ers: The team’s best player and the league’s best pass rusher will sign a new contract that makes him the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback.

Big press conference, big smiles, big money.

So let’s get on with it.

What’s the hold-up with ending the hold-out?

The 49ers are practicing hard. They’re not terribly far away from beginning to game-plan for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1.

But Bosa is 3,000 miles away, and there’s no expectation that he will hop on a plane for San Jose anytime soon.

The Niners are downplaying it all. But not giving Bosa his big deal is, well, a big deal, because there’s no guarantee this hold-out ends before the regular-season starts.

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I can understand why Bosa is relaxing in Florida. (His relaxation likely involves six hours a day in a gym.) He’s exerting the leverage he has in this contract stand-off. He’s also waiting for other top defenders — Brian Burns in Carolina and Chris Jones in Kansas City — to sign new deals.

But Bosa’s new contract should be much larger than either of those deals. They’re barely comparable. In fact, Bosa’s only fair comparison is TJ Watt ($28 million per season) and Aaron Donald ($31 million per season).

The Niners will end up paying Bosa nearly $170 million over five years. It’s what the market demands. So I’m having difficulty seeing the value in prolonging the inevitable for the team.

In fact, I see a few reasons why they should pony up and pay Bosa today.

Let’s start with the fact that the Niners have a first-year defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks. He’s never coached Bosa, who skipped the team’s OTAs and minicamp in the spring — a foreshadowing of his holdout to come.

Unlike DeMeco Ryans, who was on Robert Saleh’s coaching staff before taking over as Niners’ defensive coordinator, Wilks is an outsider. He’s taken over one of the NFL’s best defenses, pledging continuity. Still, the former Cardinals and Panthers head coach has to adjust to the 49ers’ way of doing things just as much as Niners defenders have to adjust to him.

Sunday’s 34-7 preseason loss to the Raiders — a game where the 49ers’ second and third-string defenses looked like a sieve against the Las Vegas backups — showed there’s still a long way to go.

Wouldn’t Wilks like to coach Bosa just a bit before the start of the regular season?

He gracefully deflected that question on Tuesday, but we all know the answer.

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Bosa might not need the practice, but plenty of people in red and gold could use reps with him — the epicenter of the team’s defense.

Even a few snaps of Bosa in a scrimmage could prove enlightening when determining who should play opposite him on the defensive line — a job that’s up for grabs this preseason.

Playing behind a defensive line with Bosa rushing the passer is an entirely different experience, too. For a team with question marks at cornerback and strong-side linebacker, Bosa could help provide some answers.

And if iron truly sharpens iron, the offense would also benefit from Bosa’s return.

More importantly, the longer this holdout goes, the greater the risk that the inevitable new deal isn’t signed until the regular season has started. Missing Bosa for a few games could prove massive come the winter.

Pass rusher is the second most important position in the NFL, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in Kyle Shanahan’s six seasons as the Niners’ head coach, he’s posted a losing record in three seasons without Bosa and has competed for the Super Bowl in the three seasons he’s played.

The Niners have been keen to pay elite players elite money under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. But they have never waited this long into camp to agree on a big-money contract extension.

Last season, Deebo Samuel and the Niners agreed to a new deal on July 31.

The season before that, Fred Warner and the Niners signed a new contract on July 21. A deal was struck with Trent Williams in March of that year.

In 2020, the Niners and George Kittle waited until Aug. 14 to make the tight end the highest paid at his position in the league.

Deals like that require traction — a few days, at least, of serious back-and-forth. There’s no indication that the team and Bosa have that kind of traction right now. What’s to say it shows up anytime soon?

We can talk about the backup quarterback job until we’re blue in the face. But that is just a distraction.

This is the 49ers’ biggest issue, and it’s easily addressed: Stop hesitating and cut the check.

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