Holdouts are common in NFL training camps, but they are typically resolved by Week 1. When three team-defining players, the most important defensive centerpieces on their respective teams are all poised to sit out the opening week — it’s surreal.
This is exactly what’s happening to the Chiefs, 49ers, and Panthers as Chris Jones, Nick Bosa and Brian Burns are all poised to miss the start of the NFL season, still unable to reach contract agreements with their new teams.
There’s no amount of “next man up” talk that can compensate for the lack of impact these three players bring, so let’s break down what it means to each of these teams in Week 1 to be without their most critical defensive players.
Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
Why is there an impasse?
Jones elevated his play from being a top-tier defensive tackle, to become the best DT in the league not named Aaron Donald in 2022. Jones’ 15.5 sacks last season led all defensive tackles, as the 29-year-old was named a First Team All-Pro. He wants financial security as he’s on the final year of a 4 year, $80M deal signed in 2020. The Chiefs want to keep Jones at, or slightly above what he’s making now — while Jones is reportedly looking to the future increase of the salary cap and is asking for $30M annually.
What does his absence do to the Chiefs?
That’s really a two part question. In Week 1 the Chiefs face the Lions, a game on paper that they should win fairly handily, but with Travis Kelce being limited in practice it potentially leaves Kansas City without two of its most important players. Make no mistake: The Chiefs are still the heavy favorites here against the resurgence Lions, but they lack a consistent way to collapse the pocket with Jones missing.
It’s here the second part of this scenario kicks in. Jones is reportedly willing to hold out until Week 8, which is the last week he can make him self available and still get credit for playing in the 2023 season. There are for big games to circle if he holds out until then: Jaguars, Jets, Vikings, and Chargers. All teams with excellent quarterbacks who figure to be playoff teams. If Kansas City hits Week 8 at 4-4 (which is entirely possible without consistent disruption on defense) they give themselves very little wiggle room for any missteps down the stretch, and would need to play near-perfect football to guarantee winning the brutal AFC West.
It’s hyperbole to say missing Jones could “tank” the Chiefs season, but he’s the most critical player on this team other than Patrick Mahomes.
Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers
Why is there an impasse?
Bosa is on the final year of a rookie contract that he’s out-played five times over. Like Jones he wants security before he takes the field, and the sticking point right now is a few million AAV. The 49ers reportedly want to pay Bosa commensurate with the $28M per year given to T.J. Watt of the Steelers, while Bosa wants to be the highest paid defensive players in the NFL — which would require him making more than $31.7M yearly, which Aaron Donald currently has.
What does his absence do the 49ers?
San Fran is still a big question mark offensively. There’s a lot of faith that Brock Purdy will be “the guy,” but this is still a team defined by its defense. The drop off between Bosa and his backup Clelin Ferrell is perhaps the most pronounced in the NFL, with Ferrell more or less being a reclamation project the Niners hope to revitalize and flip for future picks, after doing nothing in Las Vegas for four years after being the No. 4 overall pick in 2019.
This team is still disgustingly talented on defense with Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead and Fred Warner — but Bosa is their bellcow pass rusher off the edge that enables this team to win through defense, even with offensive mediocrity.
It’s wild to imagine this might cause a significant holdout over a few million dollars, but NFL teams do dumb things. If we look at the 49ers schedule they have a semi-soft start to the year with the Steelers and Rams, but the Giants in Week 3 could be a significant test, especially with Daniel Jones’ propensity to run off the edge.
Ultimately it would require a lengthy holdout to hurt their chances of making the playoffs, but the 49ers a shadow of themselves without Bosa. This team’s goal needs to be defensive dominance to the point Purdy can ease into a 17-week starting role, and without their best pass rusher it puts a lot more pressure on him.
Brian Burns, OLB, Carolina Panthers
Why is there an impasse?
The newest addition to this list, Brian Burns sat out practice since Monday and is seeking a new contract. Burns is on the final year of his rookie deal, and is more or less looking for Bosa to set the market at EDGE before he agrees to an extension. It’s widely believed he’s seeking around the $30M per year mark as well, also aware the salary cap will continue to increase.
What does his absence do the Panthers?
Burns may not be a household name like Bosa, but he’s one of the best disrupters in the NFL who is universally known in league circles, even if fans at home might not know him as a top-tier defensive player. It’s for this reason the Rams offered two first round picks for Burns last season when they thought the Panthers were in the middle of a fire sale after dealing Christian McCaffrey, and Carolina still said no.
Burns has had 21.5 sacks over the last two seasons despite playing out of position. Yes, he’s been playing out of position. The 249 pound Burns excelled as a 4-3 end despite it inhibiting his best trait, which is his quickness. Now in the Panthers reformed 3-4 it was expected he’d pair with Justin Houston to give the team its best pass rushing tandem in years.
There aren’t very high expectations for the Panthers this year. The top-end is essentially winning the NFC South and getting bumped in the first round of the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the team should ignore its best defensive player. Similar to Bosa, having Burns in the lineup and putting pressure on opposing QBs will open up the offense to operate more methodically and with less desperation, a key to ensure Bryce Young has success his first season.