Yesterday, the Colin Kaepernick contract extension was reported as $61 million guaranteed, and a record-setting deal. This prompted many immediate questions. Is Colin Kaepernick ELITE? Does he really deserve to be paid more than Peyton Manning or Drew Brees?
Not so fast. Pro Football Talk has the details of the contract, and the money is not quite as guaranteed as first reported. We are pushing the line of what constitutes guarantee, when there are escalator clauses and portions of it only become fully guaranteed after certain future dates. While there has been much concern that the QB salaries are all or nothing, with no middle class, this deal actually does just that.
So how do we get a deal that is reported initially as THE MOST GUARANTEED MONEY EVAR and ends up really establishing a mid-tier for QB Deals? (If Kansas City, tomorrow, gave Alex Smith this exact deal, then I would take back everything I said here).
The deal features several features:
- Kaepernick initially gets just under $13 million in a signing bonus;
- Remaining amounts reported as part of that large “Guarantee” money are only base salary guaranteed for injury only, that become fully guaranteed on April 1st of each contract year. Thus, San Francisco could make a decision in a few years to move on, and Kaepernick will not actually collect that reported $61 million;
- There are roster and workout bonuses that increase the reported total amount;
- And there is a de-escalation clause, which actually reduces those base amounts by $2 million per year until a season when Kaepernick plays 80% of snaps AND either has a Super Bowl appearance or is named 1st or 2nd team all pro;
- Oh, and Kaepernick is required to use his money to purchase injury insurance up to $20 million to compensate San Francisco, in the event that “injury” part of the guaranteed money kicks in.
As a result, once you account for the distribution of that initial signing bonus, we get a situation where Kaepernick is not necessarily guaranteed to be the quarterback throughout the life of the contract, because San Francisco could make a decision in a few years to move on before April 1st of that calendar year.
Even if he is on the roster, he will be paid more like an above average quarterback, during what should be his prime years, and you can put away the elite talk. For comparison, I’ll show where his cap charges will rank him among existing contracts for quarterbacks, both if he is an all-pro/Super Bowl quarterback (AP/SB), or not. (all ranks from spotrac.com)
2015- 10th (AP/SB) or 13th
2016- 7th (AP/SB) or 10th
2017- 5th (AP/SB) or 7th
2018- 3rd (AP/SB) or 6th (with only $5 million guaranteed after April 1, and only $2.5 million dead money if cut)
Now, keep in mind that those rankings are based only on current contracts. You have Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson who will soon sign their own long term deals that probably will push them above those annual values for Kaepernick. You have veterans who will come due and may still be playing at high levels during that time period, like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who will command high yearly figures on shorter term deals. By that 2018 figure, when San Francisco could easily walk away, the only other quarterbacks currently under contract are Joe Flacco, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, and Jay Cutler.
It is likely that over the real life of his contract, Kaepernick is never inside the top 5 in yearly cap charge, and most likely just outside the top 10. We can debate Kaepernick’s value, but that’s a pretty good deal for San Francisco for a quarterback from ages 27 to 31. Kaepernick does not have to be one of the best quarterbacks, just an above average one to make it work for the 49ers, and if he is not, they can get out.