As the 49ers get closer to the start of the 2023 NFL season, the concern over the ongoing holdout of star defensive end Nick Bosa is growing.
Bosa missed the entirety of the 49ers’ training camp and wasn’t in Santa Clara for Wednesday’s practice either, bringing the length of his holdout to 37 days.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan has signaled he expected Bosa’s extended absence and both he and general manager John Lynch have expressed optimism that they’ll get things done.
But still, it isn’t done yet, which means Bosa’s absence is starting to get uncomfortable. Sure, plenty of 49ers have skipped offseason workouts before, but most reported to training camp. Bosa didn’t, and now the worst-case scenario of Bosa missing a regular season game — or several — feels possible. If so, he could arguably be the most prominent 49er to ever miss a regular season game because of a contract dispute.
Here’s a list of noteworthy holdouts in 49ers history (in chronological order):
Ronnie Lott, 1984 (nine days): Lott missed more than a week of camp, but eventually signed a deal that made him the highest-paid defensive back in the NFL at the time.
Obviously, the 49ers did not regret that move, as Lott continued his Hall of Fame career with San Francisco through the rest of the 1980s. That new contract may have played a factor for someone else, though…
Fred Dean, 1984 (10 games missed): Dean only came to the 49ers in 1981 because of a contract dispute with the Chargers, and the franchise-altering trade helped San Francisco win its first Super Bowl. But the defensive end missed the first 10 games of the 1984 season because of another dispute, and the 49ers refused to give him his desired $800,000 contract.
Dean returned to play in five regular season games, tallying four sacks, and then added four more sacks in the 49ers’ three playoff wins en route to their second Super Bowl victory.
Charles Haley, 1989 (31 days): Coming off of a 69-tackle, 11.5-sack season, Haley missed all but one day of the 1989 training camp up in Rocklin in search of a new deal. Haley was one of several defenders to hold out, but became the first to sign and help get the rest of the group together.
It worked out for the best as the 49ers went 14-2 and repeated as Super Bowl champions for their fourth title of the decade. The future Hall of Famer tallied 10.5 sacks in 1989 and stayed with San Francisco for another two years until a contentious trade to Dallas in 1992.
Jerry Rice, 1992 (37 days): Rice was already a global superstar by the early 1990s, and was only seven shy of the then-all-time receiving touchdown record (100) before this holdout. Once signed, he became the highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL.
In the nine seasons to follow this holdout, Rice would catch another 83 touchdowns for the 49ers and help win another Super Bowl — his third and the team’s fifth.
R.W. McQuarters, 1998 (10 days): McQuarters hadn’t even played an NFL game when the 1998 first-rounder held out for a better deal. He finally joined after a little more than a week away and impressed early, intercepting two balls in his first practice.
But McQuarters only played for the 49ers for two disappointing years before they traded him to Chicago, though he would eventually win a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants later in his career.
Julian Peterson, 2004 (27 days): A first-round pick in 2000, Peterson was the backbone of the early 2000s 49ers defense, named to the All-Pro second team in 2002 (96 tackles, two sacks, one interception) and to the first team in 2003 (95 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions) and going to the Pro Bowl both years.
Ahead of ‘04, the 49ers franchise tagged Peterson, but couldn’t hammer out a long-term deal before camp, thus starting the holdout. The deal still wasn’t done when Peterson ended his holdout nearly a month later and never was signed. Peterson missed most of the 2004 season with an injury, played on the franchise tag again in 2005 and signed with Seattle for 2006.
Michael Crabtree, 2009 (five games): Crabtree’s holdout was by far the most contentious holdout saga of the modern 49ers era, especially since it came right after he was chosen No. 10 in the 2009 draft. While he attended rookie minicamps and got the playbook, the wide receiver missed all of training camp, then missed the first five games of the 2009 season.
His absence was called into question by none other than Rice early in the regular season. Crabtree finally signed a six-year deal in October and would join the 49ers on the field after their Week 6 bye, playing in the final 11 games of the season and the next five years in red and gold.
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Aubrayo Franklin, 2010 (25 days): The nose tackle didn’t want to play on a franchise tag, holding out in hopes of a long-term deal. That never came, and he returned to San Francisco for the 2010 season before departing ahead of 2011.
Frank Gore, 2011 (four days): Gore’s holdout was very brief and ended without a new contract, but the timing had the chance to be the most impactful if it dragged. That offseason, the 49ers had just hired Jim Harbaugh as their new head coach, but an NFL lockout barred players from their facilities, meaning every camp practice took on extra significance.
It took a while, but Gore got his new deal, the Harbaugh-led 49ers surged to the top of the NFC for a multi-year run and the running back and head coach became friends for life.