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Mike Tomlin: Steelers preparing to face 49ers star Nick Bosa in Week 1

Nick Bosa's contract situation hovers over the Bay Area like a dense smog unwilling to dissipate as the start of the 2023 season fast approaches.

The reigning Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year continues to hold out looking for a massive contract as he's slated to enter the final year of his rookie deal. With five days until the Niners kick off the campaign in Pittsburgh, time is running short to avoid Bosa missing games.

For their part, the Steelers are approaching Sunday's contest as if Bosa will be in the lineup. Coach Mike Tomlin cited Pittsburgh's own experience with star pass rusher T.J. Watt in 2021 for believing that, ultimately, the Steelers won't face a Bosa-less squad.

"Yes, we are preparing for Bosa," Tomlin said Tuesday. "It's prudent for us to assume that he is gonna be there and prepare in that vein, as opposed to be surprised. We were in a similar circumstance with a dynamic rusher a couple of years ago in T.J. We got a deal done at the 11th hour. He showed up in the stadium, and he was T.J. Watt that day. So that's what those guys do. They show up, and they are who they are."

During the 2021 offseason, Watt staged a hold-in, not practicing or appearing in preseason action. On Sept. 9 -- the day the NFL season kicked off -- sides struck a deal making Watt the highest-paid defensive player in the league. Three days later, Watt took the field and generated two sacks, five QB hits and a forced fumble in the Steelers' win over the Buffalo Bills.

With that backdrop, it is zero surprise Tomlin is approaching the situation assuming Bosa will not only be in uniform but at full force.

"We expect him to be there. It's the prudent approach to take, and if he's gonna be there, we know the type of player that he intends on being," Tomlin said. "So that's something to be dealt with."

Tomlin's mindset is the only one he can have. It would be all sorts of foolishness to plan for Bosa not to play. Approaching it like a player listed as "questionable" with an injury is the logical stance. If Bosa ultimately doesn't play, it's a bonus for Pittsburgh.

From the 49ers' perspective, things are hazier.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday on The Insiders on NFL+ that the 49ers already offered Bosa more than $30 million per year on a contract, which would best Watt's $28 million per year as the highest-paid edge rusher.

The question is whether the Niners are willing to top Aaron Donald's $31.666 million per year, including roster bonuses, to spread out costs over the contract's life.  

It's a question that threatens to linger over the 49ers until one side blinks.

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