Colin Kaepernick's pending contract extension, among other things, has been a hot topic during a tumultuous offseason for the San Francisco 49ers. By making astute financial decisions when it comes to personnel of late, the team has plenty of room to absorb a highly lucrative deal.
Entering the last season of his rookie four-year deal, Kaepernick and his representatives are allowed to negotiate a lucrative extension with the team, one that will likely put him in the upper echelon of the league's richest signal callers. Reports surfaced this week that his camp is asking for an average of $18 million a season. Any deal of that magnitude wouldn't be as simple as a seasonal dollar amount, but it's become the basis of the negotiation at this point, publicly anyway.
By potentially becoming the richest player in team history, the question quickly becomes whether or not signing Kaepernick to such a deal would be good financial move for the 49ers and their salary cap situation in the short term. There's no doubt coming to an agreement of that magnitude hampers future flexibility in a serious way.
Having an $18 million cap figure will make it virtually impossible to lure big-name players via free agency or trades (ending all Darrelle Revis-type speculation). But since Trent Baalke and Co. have taken over the personnel operation, the 49ers haven't been inclined to make those kind of moves anyway. Carlos Rogers is the rare case after signing a four-year, $31.3 million deal prior to the 2012 season after originally joining the team cheaply on a one-year contract. Otherwise, San Francisco has done well hauling in affordable and productive free agents like Donte Whitner and Glenn Dorsey.
But signing a number of their own key players to affordable contracts over the past few years has set them up nicely to absorb a big cap hit from the quarterback position. The growing salary cap will help - up $10 million (to $133) this year and another $10 million in 2015.
Core players Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Joe Staley, Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks are some of the cogs that were locked up to reasonable deals in recent years that gives them roughly $35 million in cap space in 2015, according to overthecap.com. And all those players will be around on their current contracts through that league year. At the time their deals were good values and were done in a way to prepare for the big quarterback contract that was coming down the pike.
Assuming Kaepernick gets his $18 million (a nice round number that will surely change year-to-year like most big contracts do), that will leave $17 million in cap space for Michael Crabtree and Aldon Smith, both free agents following the coming season. The 49ers are likely to use the transition tag on Smith which will pay him $10 million for 2015, down from the $11.45 million franchise number for linebackers this year. If Smith returns to All-Pro form next season, that will be a relative bargain compared to what he could get on the open market as a 25-year-old free agent.
Correction: the team has a fifth-year option on Smith they could use for 2015, which would equal the same pay as the transition tag and would have to be exercised by May 3.
That would leave $11 million in space for Crabtree and Mike Iupati while the team will still look to clear space through various cuts and restructured contracts. As one of the league's premier left guards, it would behoove Iupati to test the open market and become one of the league's highest-paid players at the position once his contract runs out next season with the 49ers, assuming he has another standout campaign. The franchise number for offensive lineman this year is a reported $11.65 million, which is in the ballpark of what Iupati could get on the open market. As good as he is, anything upwards of $8 million a season is an awful lot for a guard. Tackles Davis and Staley will count for roughly $10.9 million against the salary cap combined this upcoming season according to overthecap.com.
The league's high-paid guards per season are Tampa Bay's Carl Nicks ($9.5 million) and the Patriots' Logan Mankins ($8.5 million).
While these are rough numbers that are sure to change, they paint a clear picture of how well San Francisco has positioned itself going forward knowing they would have to pay a quarterback franchise-type money. The team is at that point with Kaepernick now.
The reported baseline of $18 million a season might seem like a lot for a QB coming off his first full season as a starter. But with an extensive playoff resume already, paying him in the same range as Jay Cutler and Matt Stafford doesn't seem nearly as outrageous. If Kaepernick made $18 million flat per season, he would be the league's sixth-highest paid quarterback. For a QB that's played in a Super Bowl and conference title game in his first two seasons under center, that's not a bad proposition for the 49ers going forward.
Whether or not Kaepernick gets his $18 million remains to be seen. But no matter where the final amount ends up, a potential deal won't prevent the 49ers from keeping their core intact over the next few seasons.
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