That’s because — at least in my long-time experience as a GM and team president — the real deadline in the minds of 49ers GM John Lynch and Chiefs GM Brett Veach is two weeks before their regular-season openers. That is enough time for a veteran player to get in game shape, physically and mentally.
For the 49ers, that date (Aug. 27) is quickly approaching in advance of their Sept. 10 opener at Pittsburgh. It’s even earlier for the Chiefs, who host the Thursday night kickoff game on Sept. 7 against the Detroit Lions, which brings the two weeks prior date to August 24.
Different Situations, Approaches
I dealt with many holdouts in my career and unsigned high draft picks or free agents who couldn’t report to training camp until they signed. Technically, the latter two categories were not holdouts because they weren’t under contract. One example is Josh Jacobs, who has not signed his franchise tender with the Las Vegas Raiders.
I always had two different approaches with holdouts and late signees. If it was a rookie, I wanted him signed and fully participating on the first day of training camp because any missed meetings or practices set them back in the learning process. Plus, rookies generally did not report in top shape compared to veterans. They often would pull a hamstring or a calf (or have a more serious injury) shortly after reporting.
I reached a point after a two-week camp holdout with a second-round Minnesota Vikings draft pick in 1994 — wide receiver David Palmer — where I threatened to reduce his signing bonus for every day he was absent. This was after I offered a fair contract under his rookie salary pool slot before camp started.
He signed the next day and, naturally, pulled a hamstring during his first practice. That injury cost him several games in his rookie season. After that, I would threaten a pay reduction on the first day of camp if a draft choice was unsigned.
I took a different approach with unsigned veteran players or holdouts seeking new contracts, like Bosa and Jones. The veterans usually came to camp in excellent shape, and they knew the offensive or defensive schemes. So that wasn’t an issue as long as we didn’t have a scheme change under a new offensive or defensive coordinator.
That’s not the case for the Chiefs with Jones, and new 49ers defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks, is keeping the same basic scheme.
I had a couple of veteran holdouts who were key starters. Even though the coaches wanted them in training camp from Day 1, I was OK with them missing a couple of weeks of camp and several preseason games to mitigate the injury risk, especially if they had an injury history.
Starters actually played in preseason games back then. The only positions that would be of greater concern to have all players report on time were on the offensive line, where coordination with other starters is critical.
Holdout vs. Hold-In
In the cases of Bosa and Jones, it’s surprising they and their agents have chosen to keep them out of training camp during negotiations and not do “hold-ins” as so many players have done in recent years.
With that strategy, the players participate in meetings and walk-throughs but do not practice or play in preseason games in order to avoid a serious injury that would damage their negotiating leverage. Teams have not fined players who take this approach, and it generally creates a better atmosphere as negotiations continue unless the player’s bitterness becomes a distraction.
As a player on his second contract, Jones will be fined $50,000 per day, so the amount now exceeds $1 million plus the $99,000 Jones was fined for missing the mandatory June minicamp. Under the CBA, the team cannot forgive these fines for a player on his second contract. Jones also lost a $500,000 offseason workout bonus by not participating. So Jones is making a big mistake by not staging a hold-in.
Bosa’s situation is different. He is subject to fines of $40,000 per day for the days he’s been absent from training camp, and he could be docked one regular season game check (about $1 million) for every preseason game missed. However, the 49ers can — and almost certainly will — rescind Bosa’s fines. They’re allowed to do that for a player on his rookie deal. He showed up for minicamp as a hold-in, so he avoided a potential fine and created goodwill with that move.
Bosa and Jones are obviously critical to their team’s defenses, which should be Super Bowl contenders. Both players have been consistently productive at the highest level for many years.
Parameters for Next Contract
Bosa is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year after he led the league with 18.5 sacks last season. He is a cornerstone player on the NFL’s top defense in 2022 and was the second overall pick in 2019. Bosa was Defensive Rookie of the Year and is a three-time Pro Bowler with 15.5 sacks in 2021 and eight career playoff sacks. He is a dominant player, as shown by his 48 QB hits and 19 tackles for loss last year, along with his sack total.
At 25 years old, Bosa is under contract for $17.859 million under his fifth-year option. He surely wants to be the first edge rusher to top $30 million per year (T.J. Watt leads at $28 million per year in new money under his 2021 extension). But Bosa and his agents likely want to jump Aaron Donald’s $31.7 million per year as the league’s highest-paid defensive player.
Jones is four years older than Bosa and signed for four years and $80 million as a franchise-tagged player in 2020. The four-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler is under contract for $19.5 million this season before he can hit free agency next March.
He is coming off a season with 15.5 sacks, 29 QB hits and 17 tackles for loss. He also added two sacks during the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run. Jones is now up to 65 career regular season sacks.
The Donald contract is also a benchmark Jones seeks to reach or exceed under an extension. It will be a bit risky for the Chiefs to pay Jones that much when he would be playing in his early 30s under his next deal. The 49ers would have no such concern with the younger Bosa as he enters his second contract.
Jones has played in every game in four of his seven seasons and has only missed a handful of games in his career. But the Chiefs could think that Donald had a career-worst five sacks and missed six games last season at 31 years old and wonder if Jones will play up to such a hefty next contract.
I would try to bridge the gap and close this deal by including significant active roster bonuses and sack incentives along with league honors incentives. That way, Jones is rewarded and can max out his deal by staying healthy and being productive.
San Francisco could feel slightly concerned about Bosa’s injury history after he played in only two games in 2020 before tearing his ACL, but Bosa has not missed any other games in his four-year career.
Deals Coming Soon?
I feel strongly that Bosa and Jones will get their contracts extended in the coming weeks. I think Bosa will exceed the Watt deal and likely approach or top Donald’s contract. Jones is more likely to get a nice bump to the second-highest-paid defensive tackle but still trailing Donald.
Both players are too valuable and important to their teams’ title aspirations not to have them in the opening-day lineup. I expect both deals to get done next week, within the two-week window before their regular season openers. If it doesn’t happen by then, it truly will be time to hit the panic button.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.