The 49ers would be over the moon if Nick Bosa was able to replicate the success his older brother, Joey, had with the Chargers during his rookie season. They also hope the younger Bosa gets on the field with his team with a whole lot sooner than Joey did.
Joey Bosa, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft, held out from the Chargers for four weeks beginning at the start of training camp while disputing details of his rookie contract. He joined the club 13 days before the season opener and suffered a hamstring injury during practice, costing him the first four weeks of the regular season.
If that sounds familiar, it should.
Nick Bosa, of course, tweaked his hamstring during an offseason practice May 21 and the 49ers decided to hold him out until the start of training camp in late July. And, like his brother, Nick is represented by the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), who advocated for Joey’s lengthy holdout that might have factored into his problematic injury to begin his pro career (to be fair, the Chargers aren’t known for being easy to deal with when it comes to rookie contracts).
Joey bounced back from his absence by posting 10.5 sacks over the final 12 games and being named the defensive rookie of the year. San Francisco would be thrilled to get that kind of rookie campaign from Nick, just without the holdout.
And while 49ers players and coaches are enjoying their six weeks off between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp, one of the team’s most prominent story lines remains the contract statuses of Bosa and fellow rookie Deebo Samuel, the receiver taken in the second round of the draft this spring – also a CAA client. They are San Francisco’s only two draftees that haven’t signed their four-year rookie contracts.
Five first-round picks unsigned
As of this posting, Bosa, taken with the No. 2 selection, is one of five first-round draftees who remains unsigned. Samuel is one three second-rounders without a deal.
There are five weeks for those players to agree to their contracts done before risking missing valuable training camp reps and, potentially, injury with a hasty return like Joey Bosa’s in 2016.
“I’ve probably asked (my agent) about it once throughout this process,” Nick Bosa said earlier this month when asked about his contract. “But I know it takes a little bit for that to happen for a lot of guys. So I’m just patient and we’ll see what happens.”
The collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011 included slotted salaries for NFL rookies, meaning the total dollar amount given to draft picks over their four seasons is predetermined by when they were drafted. The devil leading to these holdouts is in the details – namely, offset language.
Offset language is a safety net for teams to avoid paying players portions of their guaranteed dollars should they wind up getting cut and signed by another team. If there’s no offset language in a deal, a player can join a new team and “double dip” by getting paid from their first team and their new team. The “dead” money paid by the first team counts against the salary cap.
So it’s understandable why teams and players would dig their heels in. Teams want to maintain financial flexibility while they deal with the restrictions of a hard salary cap. Players, and their agents, want to ensure as much earning power as they can given the volatile financial life of NFL players who are the only major pro athletes in America who don’t have fully guaranteed contracts.
Questions for Bosa, Samuel to answer
In an ideal world, offset language wouldn’t matter for the 49ers, Bosa and Samuel. Both players would be productive and earn multiple contracts to stay with San Francisco beyond their rookie deals – if everything went to plan. The 49ers’ last first-round pick that didn’t last at least four seasons was receiver A.J. Jenkins in 2011. Pass rusher Aldon Smith, a first-round pick in 2012, was released before his fifth season following his series of legal troubles.
Bosa’s injury history and durability were his two major question marks entering the draft. He played just three games at Ohio State last season due to a core muscle injury and a partial ACL tear ended his high school career in 2015. His hamstring injury last month didn’t do anything to alleviate concerns over his medical history.
Samuel joins the league with similar questions after dealing with a fractured ankle in 2017 and recurring hamstring injuries during his college career at South Carolina. He missed practice during the final two weeks of the offseason program because of a minor hip injury. Missing a chance to build chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo and learn the complexities of coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense in training camp would be a major hurdle for his first NFL season.
Bosa’s coaches have indicated he needs practice reps after playing just three games in the past calendar year.
“You use your skills or you lose your skills,” pass rush specialist Chris Kiffin said. “I don’t think it’s as easy as riding a bike. I don’t do it often, but I can still get on there and ride a bike. For Nick, he really needs those live reps. ... He’s going to need to get quality work in before we open with Tampa (Week 1).”
Joey Bosa’s four-week contract stalemate ended when the Chargers agreed to give him the most guaranteed money to a rookie in club history – even while the contract included offset language. He’s become one of the most talented defensive ends in the NFL with 28.6 sacks in 35 career games.
It remains to be seen how things will go with his younger brother and San Francisco.