Steelers Fear 49ers’ Nick Bosa Will ‘Pull a T.J. Watt’ in Week 1

Nick Bosa of the 49ers (left) and T.J. Watt of the Steelers.

Getty Nick Bosa of the 49ers (left) and T.J. Watt of the Steelers.

Since the announcing of the 53-man NFL roster in San Francisco, the entirety of Niners Nation’s focus has moved to an increasingly pressing matter: the holdout of edge rusher Nick Bosa. For Bosa, getting a new contract is about being recognized as the best edge rusher in the league, and being paid accordingly—or, perhaps, being pad as the best defensive player in the league, period.

For the franchise, it’s about minding every dollar for now and into the future as Niners cope with the league’s salary cap.

But for 49ers fans, the thing that really matters is getting Bosa on the field in time for Week 1. And on the other side, for Steelers fans, the hope is that Bosa’s holdout drags into the season, at least to Week 2. That’s because folks in Pittsburgh are familiar with what can happen when a newly-paid sack master takes the field in Week 1, even with no preseason behind him.

As columnist Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pointed out in a column on Saturday, it happened for the Steelers with T.J. Watt two years ago.  After sitting out for all of camp in 2021, Watt got a new $112 million contract from the Steelers two days before the season opener against Buffalo.

And Watt dominated that day, with two sacks, five quarterback hits and a forced fumble as the Steelers won, 23-16.

Watt Was in Same Situation as Nick Bosa in 2021

For the Steelers, the fear is that Bosa will do much the same as Watt this time around–or, as the headline on Fittipaldo’s story said, “Steelers are hoping Nick Bosa doesn’t pull a T.J. Watt.”

Indeed, the similarities are striking. Like Watt, Bosa is heading into his fifth NFL season, and is coming off a year in which he led the league in sacks and tackles for loss, just as Watt did in 2020. Like Watt, Bosa is a three-time Pro Bowl selection whose team struggles when he is out.

And in 2021, Watt was facing an up-and-coming Bills team in the opener, just as Bosa and the 49ers are facing a promising young Steelers team that is hoping to see quarterback Kenny Pickett shine in his second season. Watt’s return ruined the day for Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Bosa could do the same to Pickett, a major concern for Pittsburgh.

All summer, coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch have shrugged off concerns about Bosa’s conditioning without a training camp behind him, pointing out that few players keep themselves as fit as Bosa.

Fittipaldo quoted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after Watt’s performance in the 2021 opener: “Were you surprised? It just shows the preseason is overrated, right?”

Bosa-49ers Deal ‘Not a Slam Dunk’

Still, there’s no guarantee that Bosa will be in the lineup for the opener. While the rumor-mill seems to point to the notion that Bosa will get a contract done by Saturday at 4 p.m.—the deadline for the 49ers to declare him on the active roster or not—the Niners are bracing for this to continue into the season.

In discussing the Bosa situation on ESPN, insider Jeremy Fowler said things are not as bad as they are in Kansas City with Chris Jones’ holdout:

“A bit more optimism here,” Fowler said. “People I talk to believe he will be the highest defensive player in the league, above (Aaron) Donald’s $31-plus million, if they can get this at  the finish line. The 49ers would like to push this through before Week 1, but it’s not a slam dunk. A deal of this magnitude has a lot of nuance to it that they have to shake out with the structure and the guarantees and all that.”

The Steelers are hoping that nuance keeps Bosa on the sidelines next Sunday.

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