This past year, ESPN's Mike Sando transitioned from NFC West blogger to "ESPN Insider NFL Columnist". In his new role, Sando writes about issues across the NFL. While some folks thought he was a Seahawks homer during his run as NFC West blogger, I think most would agree he was a solid writer who found some great angles. He is taking that to his Insider work, but unfortunately all of his articles are behind the Insider-subscription wall. Insider used to be completely worthless, but ESPN has worked to provide some greater value these days.
I bring this all up because Sando put together some thoughts on Colin Kaepernick's contract status. Most people do not have an Insider account, so I thought I'd break down the big picture of what Sando was discussing. We cannot copy and paste extensive parts of the article, but I'll grab some key parts, and go into the general nature of his comments. If you see a great 49ers-specific Insider column, give me a heads-up in the comments or via email (ninersnation at gmail dot com), and I'd be happy to break it down for everyone. Just don't copy and paste all or even a large chunk of an article into the comments or a FanPost.
Whether we like it or not, there will be a lot of Colin Kaepernick material this offseason because the contract extensions talks are going to be such a big deal. If the 49ers work out a contract extension, the salary cap possibilities change to fit in what would be a fairly sizable extension, no matter how lengthy. If the 49ers are unable to figure out a contract extension with Kap, suddenly the draft gains even more importance.
I think the latter is a much less likely possibility, but that's a good point Sando makes in his article. He discussed Kaepernick with three player agents, one NFL contract negotiator and a former GM. One of the agents apparently represents a more prominent quarterback, and he raised the point of whether Russell Wilson's success and the Ravens cap problems in light of Joe Flacco's big deal makes it better to just stick with young, inexpensive quarterbacks. This is not a shocking suggestion given the 49ers own success with a young, inexpensive quarterback in Kaepernick.
Jim Harbaugh gets praised by many as a sort of "quarterback-whisperer", which has Sando suggesting the notion of drafting a quarterback prospect to develop and stash for the 2014 season. He points out that if Kaepernick improves in 2014 under his current contract, the team has the option of franchising him in 2015. In doing that, Sando says the team would be looking at a franchise tender in the neighborhood of $19 million. On the other hand, if Kaepernick does not improve, or regresses in 2014, the team has another young quarterback they could potentially roll the dice on in 2015. Jim Harbaugh has shown he is not afraid of making a daring move and running with it. Sticking with Alex Smith could have been the safe play in 2013, even after Kap's big game against the Bears, but Harbaugh knew he wanted to make the move, and he stuck with it.
There are some reports floating around that Kaepernick's agent will really begin discussions with the 49ers at the NFL Combine. The Combine has every team and most agents in attendance, which provides a chance for a variety of discussions. When the 49ers and Kap's representatives come together (assuming there haven't already been some talks), there is one particularly big question to answer. Is Kap willing to go with a shorter deal that gives him a second crack at free agency in a few years, or does he want that big six or seven year deal now?
During Super Bowl week, Kap was asked about his contract status in numerous media appearances. He acknowledged wanting to get paid comparable to his peers, but also recognized the need for the team to maintain cap flexibility to retain free agents like Anquan Boldin.
Sando discussed this with his various sources, and they said from Kap's perspective, he had to think about this as potentially looking at $20 million total over the next two years. The idea being that he is due $1,073,766 in base salary and workout bonus in 2014, and then potentially the $19 million franchise tender I mentioned above. For the purposes of contract negotiations, that's sort of the "bottom line" starting point, if you will.
One of Sando's agent sources suggested 4 years, $50 million with $35 million coming to Kap early on to noticeably exceed that $20 million base line. The former GM suggested 3 years, $40 million with $30 million guaranteed. The contract negotiator suggested a 2-year extension worth that would be worth $45 million through 2016. It's interesting to see these differences, with the GM and the agent on opposite ends, and the contract negotiator sort of splitting the difference. I'm not at all surprised that the three sources would split up in that manner.
Kap has said he recognizes the need for cap flexibility, but there are circumstances where that could end up just being lip service. If the 49ers come at him with a certain number in mind, and there is a sizable gap between that number and what Kap is looking for, this could end up being a franchise tag situation in 2015. The franchise tag could retain Kap, but there are two problems with that. The first is that the franchise tag is fully guaranteed base salary that hits the cap in its entirety in 2015. The second is that most players are not fans of the one-year franchise tag because of the always present injury concern in the NFL. I don't know that Kap would hold out if tagged, but it always remains a concern.
Kap is a gambler type of quarterback, so it would not be surprising to see him want to prove even more of what he can do in 2014, and further boost his value. However, given the franchise tag option, and his comments about understanding the need for flexibility, it would make a lot of sense to take a three- or four-year extension. It gets him paid good money, gets the team some potential flexibility, and sets Kap up for an even bigger pay day in a few years.
Colin Kaepernick has a ton of potential. Whether he reaches that potential or not remains to be seen, but given the way QB contracts are operating these days, there is going to have to be some flexibility on both sides of the negotiation. The 49ers cannot afford to go for broke at one position with so many significant free agents coming due. On the other hand, Kaepernick's skill-set deserves to be rewarded. There would seem to be a "happy medium" to be found, but it will be interesting to see how negotiations move forward.