There is no doubt in my mind that the San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has the most potential of any quarterback in the NFL. A player that can beat you with his cannon for an arm or blazing speed, Kaepernick has evolved into the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback. Now, as he enters the last year of his five-year, $5.1 million contract, the question remains how much money will he command to remain a Niner? While he potentially can go down as one of the all-time greats, potential doesn’t mean much if he doesn’t live up to the hype. And with so much money tied to a single player, 49ers GM Trent Baalke must negotiate a contract which is fair and reasonable for both sides. A task easier said than done, it can be accomplished as I believe it should be performance-based.
Unlike the NBA, the NFL salary cap is considered a “hard-cap,” meaning that the NFL allows little flexibility in exceeding the salary cap limit in order to retain their own players. An obstacle that all 32 NFL teams must account for, it forces the front office to ensure they are allocating their money wisely. No longer can NFL owners buy players like the good ‘ole days with former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who by the way was snubbed yet again as a Hall of Famer. However, it does level the playing field and in doing so, the 49ers will now have to find a way to retain one of the most marketable athletes in sports, in Kaepernick.
Looking at the top quarterback salaries, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers leads the way, as he struck the richest contract in NFL history last year by signing a five-year, $110 million ($54 million guaranteed). Compare that number to borderline Pro Bowl players such as Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler’s seven-year, $126 million ($38 million guaranteed) and San Diego Chargers QB Phillip Rivers’ six-year, $91.8 million ($38.1 million guaranteed), and you can see why Kaepernick’s contract will be crucial to signing other soon to be free-agents such as 49ers OLB Aldon Smith and WR Michael Crabtree.
So the question remains, what is a fair contract for a player that has yet to win a Super Bowl or establish himself as a top five quarterback in the NFL? Despite is inability to win the big one yet, I believe that Kaepernick has earned the right to be given a contract similar to Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.
A contract that is a six-year deal worth $88 million ($33.2 million guaranteed). A two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, Roethlisberger does not put up gaudy stats but he doesn’t have to as he has had the support of a top tier defense for much of his career. And with Kaepernick likely winning at least one Super Bowl within the time-frame of his next lucrative contract, it would be fair for the 49ers to pay him like a Super Bowl winning quarterback and not an All-Pro like the ridiculous contract given to Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco.
And with the 49ers likely paying him roughly around $15 million per season, it will allow them to sign other key players such as Smith and Crabtree, while paying Kaepernick handsomely as a top 10 quarterback. A contract that should be heavily “performance-based,” Kaepernick’s contract should include escalators such as Pro Bowls and NFC Championship Games in order to fulfill the full $15 million. This way it’s fair for both sides. However, should the 49ers and Kaepernick not come to an agreement on a long-term deal, than maybe a three to four year deal will work in the meantime.
A contract that would likely require more guaranteed money up front, as Kaepernick would likely command at least $35-$40 million guaranteed, it may be worth the 49ers investment, as his potential has yet to be reached as an NFL starting quarterback. Whether the 49ers get something done now or during the course of the season remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Kaepernick will get paid one way or the other as he is the 49ers franchise quarterback.