Colin Kaepernick looking at Jay Cutler, Tony Romo as contract benchmarks, according to the rumors

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

We're getting some reports that Colin Kaepernick is looking for a Jay Cutler, Tony Romo type contract in negotiations. We break down why it's not as simple as saying, "he wants $18 million a year."

Earlier this morning, I mentioned how anonymous sources are the life blood of sports media. It can create problems when they are accepted as straight fact, and not sufficiently challenged for their veracity. We will see an endless supply of this throughout the offseason, and that doesn't even include the Jim Harbaugh rumors.

The Colin Kaepernick contract negotiation is officially under way, and that means we'll hear all sorts of rumors and speculation as to what the end result will entail. The two sides got to business in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, and that means the entire football world was on hand to chat it up. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe heard some chatter on his end, and it had Kap looking for somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million per year.

The 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick began discussions on a new contract extension at the combine, and sources tell us that the three-year veteran wants a deal similar or slightly better than the ones given to Jay Cutler ($18.1 million per year, $38 million guarantee) and Tony Romo ($18 million per year, $40 million guarantee). While no one expects the 49ers to let Kaepernick go anywhere, we hear that if the 49ers don't get in Kaepernick's range, the quarterback would be willing to play the 2014 season at his base salary of $973,766 and postpone negotiations until next offseason instead of signing a below-market deal.

This is not a surprising comp for a potential contract. When negotiations got going, Tim Kawakami speculated that $15 million to $16 million was the floor of any negotiation. That all makes sense in the big picture of NFL quarterback contracts. Kap has proven more than some of these guys in certain respects, but he also still has a ton of room for improvement. The potential is huge, but until he reaches it, it remains potential.

Of course, the issue with reporting these kinds of figures is it completely ignores the reality of NFL contracts. Colin Kaepernick could have a deal that averages $18 million, but in reality that contract would be torn up and re-negotiated before he reaches the bigger end of it. For arguments sake, say he got a 6-year deal worth $108 million. That deal averages $18 million a year, but we know NFL contracts are all about the details. Let's take a look at the two comps mentioned.

Jay Cutler

Signed: January 2, 2014
Length: 7 years
Signing bonus: $0
Total guaranteed money:

2014
Base: 22,500,000

2015
Base: 15,500,000

2016
Base: 16,000,000

2017
Base: 12,500,000
Roster Bonus: 2,500,000 total in game day bonuses

2018
Base: 13,500,000
Roster Bonus: 2,500,000 total in game day bonuses

2019
Base: 17,500,000
Roster Bonus: 2,500,000 total in game day bonuses

2020
Base: 19,200,000
Roster Bonus: 2,500,000 total in game day bonuses

De-escalators 500,000 for failing to attend workouts

Volin said Cutler's deal has $38 million in guarantees, but based on Over The Cap's report, it is certainly not fully guaranteed. According to OTC, when Cutler signed, his 2014 and 2015 base salaries (totaling $38 million) becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2014 league year (March 13, I believe). I believe it is guaranteed for injury prior to that. Additionally, $10 million of his 2016 salary was fully guaranteed for injury upon signing, but becomes fully guaranteed in chunks: $10 million on the third day of the 2015 league year, and the remaining $6 million on the third day of the 2016 league year.

Barring a complete Cutler meltdown, this is a pretty good guarantee, but remember that an injury guarantee does not guarantee for skill- or cap-related cuts. The Bears are unlikely to cut him for either reason anytime soon, but it's still not a full guarantee. Keep that in mind when you read about "guaranteed money".

Tony Romo

Signed: March 29, 2013
Length: 7 years
Signing bonus: $25 million

2013
Base: 1,500,000

2014
Base: 13,500,000

2015
Base: 17,000,000

2016
Base: 8,500,000

2017
Base: 14,000,000

2018
Base: 19,500,000

2019
Base: 20,500,000

De-escalators: 500,000 for failing to attend workout program

Volin pointed to Romo's contract as having $40 million in guarantees. This appears to be completely accurate. Romo got $25 million in the form of an up-front signing bonus, and per OTC, his $15 million in 2013 and 2014 base salaries were fully guaranteed upon signing.

These two deals show us some of the differences in how to approach deals worth a reported $18 million per year. The Bears took a big cap hit in Year 1. The cap hits go down in the following years with no signing bonus pro-ration, but it is still a sizable chunk of space each year. If the cap goes up to $143 million next season, Cutler's $15.5 million salary counts for 10 percent of the cap. That's a reality in the NFL, so the team has to figure its way around that kind of issue.

Kap's contract will likely include more roster bonuses than Romo and Cutler have. The 49ers are big proponents of using roster bonuses to cover themselves in case of injury. Virtually every significant contract thy've negotiated in the Baalke/Marathe era has involved roster bonuses just about every year of the deals. I think it's safe to believe Kap's contract will not be any different.

People are going to throw around big numbers and talk about how the 49ers are going to be in a bind having to then work around that contract. Remember that it will all come down to the details. A Pro Football Talk will talk about these big numbers, but remember they're going for the hot take with their lazy brand of "journalism" (I may try and include that line in every post I can!).

Maybe the 49ers go with a big signing bonus, low base salaries the first couple years, and then a bunch of roster bonuses. If and when a deal gets done, we'll probably hear about some huge back-end base salaries that inflate the average. That does give Kap some leverage in future re-negotiations, but that's part of the salary cap game.

Tom Brady has sort of become the best example of how that works. He has signed several "big" contracts with the New England Patriots, but it seems like every year he ends up re-doing the deal. It clears up cap space, he gets some more bonus money, and the Patriots keep on rolling along. The key is managing it so you don't find yourself with a bunch of dead money later in the deal when the 49ers eventually part ways with Kap (be it retirement or whatever).

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