SANTA CLARA – Defensive end Nick Bosa has agreed to the richest contract in 49ers history, ending a 43-day holdout in what truly was a fait accompli, for a franchise that’s investing so much toward its first Super Bowl title since the 1994 season.
The mega-deal comes just ahead of the regular-season opener, Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bosa’s five-year, $170 million extension includes $122.5 million guaranteed, ESPN first reported just before coach Kyle Shanahan was to meet with the media and an hour before Wednesday’s practice.
Bosa, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, waited out training camp before taking his rightful place among other 49ers earning top-of-the-market rates. At $34 million annually, Bosa is the highest-paid defensive player and non-quarterback in NFL history.
The 49ers, unlike many of Silicon Valley’s other venture capitalists, are funding a project that’s approaching its third decade without the ultimate return: a Super Bowl triumph.
Also playing this season on big-money deals are tight end George Kittle, linebacker Fred Warner, left tackle Trent Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, cornerback Charvarius Ward, and defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave.
Add up all the cash the 49ers are committing this season – close to $260 million – and it’s the price you pay when loading up and retaining top-tier talent for a long-awaited sixth Lombardi Trophy.
“We’re aware of the business side of it. We understand we have a fantastic football team with great core values at really important positions,” Kittle said early in training camp. “We understand the (championship) window, whatever that is, could be closing. We’re going to try our best just to keep that window as open as long as we possibly can, but we’re going to try sneak out some wins while that window is still open.”
The 49ers’ last Super Bowl win coincided with the 1994 installation of the salary cap – at a mere $34.6 million. That is almost as much as the Los Angeles Rams’ annual salary to Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the standard bearer for Bosa’s deal.
Bosa was set to make close to $18 million on the fifth-year option of his 2019 rookie deal. Bolstering his leverage: a career-high 18 ½ sacks last season, giving him 43 sacks since that 2019 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year debut.
Bosa, it’s believed, has spent the past month working out at the gym he and his older brother, Joey, built in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they fanatically train each offseason rather than take part in their teams’ voluntary programs. Joey Bosa is three years removed from signing an extension with the Chargers (five years, $135 million) which stood as the market’s best until T.J. Watt corraled a bigger salary (four years, $112 million) from the Pittsburgh Steelers just days before the 2021 opener.
Watt played 69 snaps and had two sacks with a forced fumble in that 23-16 road win at the Buffalo Bills, after sitting out camp and debuting in practice only three days earlier.
Hence, Bosa is expected to play Sunday at Pittsburgh.
While Shanahan recently played it cool and said he expected Bosa to skip camp, general manager John Lynch agonized over Bosa’s absence.
“I don’t like the situation. Since our tenure year, we haven’t had a holdout anywhere towards that magnitude, so not something I’m comfortable with,” Lynch told KNBR 680-AM on the eve of the preseason finale. “… He’s a special player. He’s going to get a special contract.”
Steve Wilks, the 49ers’ first-year defensive coordinator, expects an easy assimilation for Bosa’s return, saying during camp: “You guys have been around here longer than I have and I’ve seen it from afar, but I think he’ll be fine when he gets here.”
Bosa became a 49ers captain last year for the first time in his career, and his influence goes beyond the on-field production to off-field inspiration, such as his team speeches on the eve of games or his overall example.
“Bosa is top of the top, from how he trains, to how he eats, to how he practices,” defensive tackle T.Y. McGill said. “I see why he’s Defensive Player of the Year and why he makes the plays he makes, because of how he works.”
McGill has been on 10 teams since 2015, so he’s been around the league and certainly can speak to how Bosa rates. “When you’re around guys like that, it’s contagious, to not only be at the top of your game but to do everything you can in or out of this building to put your best foot forward,” McGill added.
Rather than rely so much on Bosa like in recent seasons, the title-minded 49ers also made a massive financial move at free agency’s onset in March, luring defensive tackle Javon Hargrave from Philadelphia (four years, $84 million).
“That’s why you go get a Javon Hargrave and add him to the mix even though we’ve got a lot of highly compensated players: because you’ve got belief in this group,” general manager John Lynch said when camp opened July 25. “Without that belief in this group that we currently have, the culture, belief in this guy and his ability to lead this organization, you don’t do those things.
“But we have that much belief, that’s what we’re here for and now we have to go do it.”
The 49ers, after back-to-back runner-up finishes in the NFC, open defense of their NFC West title when the regular season begins Sept. 10 in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.
Shanahan said the 49ers’ focus and financial commitment remains as promised when he and Lynch came aboard in 2017, noting that CEO Jed York is committed to winning.
“We felt the first two years we were here we worked really hard to get there and I thought we did,” Shanahan said. “And really since year three, I felt we’ve been in that position every year and we feel no different this year.”
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Urgency to win always exists. How long will the 49ers invest so heavily in that, before the salary cap catches up with those ambitions?
“We have a lot of highly paid players on this team who have earned that money. You can only pay so many guys,” Kittle said. “We know some of those guys are kind of at the end of their contracts’ guarantees, and that’s when things start to move. We’re very aware of that.”
The 2020 offseason serves as a reminder of that. Specifically, the defending NFC champion 49ers opted to trade defensive tackle DeForest Buckner so they could divert their money to extensions for Armstead, Jimmie Ward and others. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and others left for greater fortunes.
“All we have is a chance and not everyone does,” Shanahan added. “And now, it’s ‘What do we do with that?’”