If the 49ers and guard Alex Boone do not reach a contract extension, history suggests he might be prepared for a long holdout that could even carry over into the regular season.
Boone, 27, is the 38th-highest paid guard in the NFL, and the 49ers have him under contract for two more seasons for a total cost of $3.7 million. Boone is not attending the voluntary offseason program as he seeks a new contract. He would be subject to nearly $70,000 in fines if he does not attend the mandatory minicamp June 17-19.
On the open market, Boone could fetch a hefty salary as a guard. And during his two seasons as a starting guard, he has suggested he still might be better-suited to play tackle. Another team could view him as a starting tackle and be willing to pay even more of a premium for his services.
There’s little doubt that under terms of the contract extension Boone signed in November 2011 – when he was the backup at both tackle positions – that he is now underpaid.
Some will point out that Boone assumed that risk he took when he accepted a $1.7 million signing bonus as part of a contract through the 2015 season.
Others will counter that teams are allowed to cut a player when he under-performs on a contract, so players have the option to hold out when they over-perform their deals.
At some point -- presumably when he saw the inequity of the deal -- Boone decided to switch agents. And it’s reasonable to assume his decision provides an indication of his mindset.
Boone hired Jonathan Feinsod and Neil Schwartz as his agents. The message being sent to the 49ers is clear: Boone is committed to whatever it takes to get a new contract.
We know that because that’s what history tells us.
Feinsod and Schwartz are known as two of the toughest negotiators in the business. Obviously, Boone knew this when he made his decision to split from his former agent, Adam Heller.
With Feisod and Schwartz advising him, then-San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson sat out most of the 2010 season in a contract dispute. In 2012, he signed a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that averages more than $11 million a year.
Feinsod/Schwartz clients Darrell Revis and Roddy White used holdouts to leverage big-money deals from the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, in recent years, too.
[MAIOCCO -- 49ers OTAs: Boone remains absent]
Meanwhile, 49ers president Paraag Marathe has shown to be a tough negotiator, too. The 49ers did not cave into the demands of Michael Crabtree’s agent, Eugene Parker, on his 2009 rookie contract. Crabtree missed five games, did not get a contract outside of his slot and was even forced to add a sixth season onto his first contract.
The next contracts for Boone and 49ers left guard Mike Iupati both figure to be big-money deals. Iupati, who is healthy after sustaining a fractured leg in the NFC Championship game, is back for the final year of his contract.
And the 49ers are unlikely to pay market value for both. And that’s one reason the 49ers selected guard Brandon Thomas, who is expected to sit out this season due to an offseason ACL injury, in the third round of the draft.
Joe Looney is seeing action in place of Boone at right guard during organized team activities. Veteran Adam Snyder can also play guard. Veteran Jonathan Martin, who has been out of action due to mononucleosis, and rookie center Marcus Martin might also get some looks.
The 49ers must consider their options and brace for the possibility that they won’t see Boone for a while.