Nick Bosa’s contract situation was the focal point when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday with the San Francisco 49ers entering the offseason after Sunday’s 31-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. The All-Pro defensive end was asked specifically if becoming the NFL‘s highest-paid defensive player was a goal. “Not necessarily. We’ll just see where it goes,” Bosa said.
Bosa, who is scheduled to make a fully guaranteed $17.859 million in 2023 on a fifth-year option, led the NFL with a career-high 18.5 sacks this season. He has already been named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. The 2019 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is the leading candidate for the more widely recognized Associated Press version of the award.
Bosa, however, isn’t anxious for a new deal. “I’m definitely going to have patience and probably not worry about it for some time,” he said. “I have an amazing agent who will handle all that.”
49ers general manager John Lynch also preached patience when discussing a potential Bosa contract extension in his season-ending press conference on Wednesday. He expressed optimism about getting a deal done because of the 49ers’ track record with other core players and was complimentary toward Bosa’s agent.
Bosa is represented by WME Sports’ Brian Ayrault, who is a shrewd negotiator. He also represents Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa, who is Nick’s older brother. Ayrault put the older Bosa at the top of the non-quarterback pay scale in 2020 with a five-year, $135 million contract extension averaging $27 million per year. The $102 million in overall guarantees and $78 million fully guaranteed at signing were both the most ever in an NFL contract for a non-quarterback.
Reseting the non-quarterback market
Left to his own devices, Ayrault is going to drive an extremely hard bargain. Ayrault will surely be looking to reset the non-quarterback market in any deal unless otherwise directed by Bosa where the 49ers get some sort of financial break. The following financial benchmarks of key contract metrics should be relevant in negotiations:
Average yearly salary: $31,666,667 (Aaron Donald, Rams)
Overall contract guarantees: $102 million (Joey Bosa, Chargers)
Fully guaranteed at signing: $80 mllion (T.J. Watt, Steelers)
Signing bonus: $40 million (Donald)
Three-year cash flow: $95 million (Donald)
First three new years: $95 million (Donald)
Professionals within the industry (agents and team negotiators) typically value deals by new money, which is the amount of compensation in a contract excluding what a player was scheduled to make before receiving a new deal. For example, Bosa had one year remaining on his existing contract with a $14.36 million salary for 2020 prior to his signing. Although Bosa signed a six-year contract for $149.36 million, his deal is considered as a five-year, $135 million extension averaging $27 million per year among industry professionals. His existing contract year for $14.36 million is subtracted from the $149.36 million six-year total to arrive at this number.
Compensation in the first three new years is the amount of money in a contract exclusive of what a player was scheduled to make before receiving a new deal, just like with new money when determining average yearly salary. The cash flow analysis looks at the compensation in its totality. The focus is on the amount of money received in the first three years of a contract regardless of whether it’s considered as new money.
Both metrics have the same dollar amount when a player signs a new contract as a free agent or with an expiring contract (i.e. linebacker Roquan Smith with the Ravens) and in the rare instance a contract is ripped up and replaced like in Aaron Donald’s case last June. Donald had three years remaining worth $55 million when the Rams gave him a new contract for $95 million over those same years.
Overall contract guarantees can be misleading. A complete picture of a contract’s true security isn’t given by this metric. The amount of money fully guaranteed at signing and will become fully guaranteed early in the contract are the best and most accurate measures of security.
Becoming NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback
It’s hard to imagine Ayrault agreeing to any deal that doesn’t make Bosa the NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback with record-setting guarantees and a player-friendly structure given the older Bosa’s contract. The Chargers’ pass rusher was coming off a 2019 season in which he had 11.5 sacks and was named to his second Pro Bowl in four NFL seasons.
The deal represented an eight percent increase over the five-year, $125 million extension Browns defensive end Myles Garrett had just signed to become the league’s first $25 million per year non-quarterback. The same percentage increase over Donald’s deal would mean $34.2 million per year for Bosa.
Ayrault has the ammunition to insist on a bigger percentage increase since Bosa is more accomplished than his brother. Bosa has a league leading 34 sacks over the last two seasons. The elder Bosa has never won Defensive Player of the Year honors, let alone been named first team All-Pro.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Ayrault had $35 million per year as his salary floor for a new deal. Making Bosa the league’s first $35 million per year non-quarterback would be 10.53% more than Donald’s deal.
The 49ers will have a hard time justifying to Ayrault that Bosa shouldn’t be the NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback when Jimmy Garoppolo was briefly made the league’s highest-paid player in 2018 after just a handful of career starts. More recently, the extensions signed by tight end George Kittle and linebacker Fred Warner in 2020 and 2021, respectively, reset their respective positional markets.
Typically, an edge rusher is not only the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player, but also the highest-paid non-quarterback. Since 2016, five different edge rushers have signed contracts making them the highest-paid non-quarterback. In chronological order, they are Von Miller (2016), Khalil Mack (2018), Garrett (2020), Joey Bosa (2020) and T.J. Watt (2021).
The 49ers might look to what happened the last time Donald was replaced as the non-quarterback standard bearer. The ink was barely dry on the six-year extension averaging $22.5 million per year Donald signed in 2018 to end a lengthy preseason holdout when Mack signed a six-year extension averaging $23.5 million per year in connection with his trade from the Raiders to the Bears.
Mack got 4.44% more than Donald. The 49ers doing the same for Bosa would mean essentially $33 million per year.
It should be easier to find common ground on contract length than money and the salary guarantees. Obviously, Ayrault doesn’t have a problem with a five-year extension since that’s the length of the older Bosa’s contract. Kittle and Warner both signed five-year extensions. There shouldn’t be anything to start worrying about unless Bosa still hasn’t gotten a new deal by the time the 49ers start playing preseason games in August.