How Much Should 49ers Be Willing to Pay to Keep Colin Kaepernick?

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IJanuary 31, 2014

San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick waits for the start of the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Underneath the tattoos, the collection of retro hats he likes to wear backwards and competitive banter with divisional adversary Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick seems like a pretty reasonable guy. 

Imagine that. 

The rocket-armed signal-caller said the following about the possibility of a contract extension as he heads into the final year of the rookie deal he signed in 2011, via KNBR per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee:

I think it’s a balance. You want to be paid fairly for what you feel like you’re doing in comparison to your peers. But at the same time, you have to realize, if we want to get Anquan Boldin back, if we want Donte Whitner to come back, we’re going to have to make moves to get them back. And there has to be room for everyone. And that’s something I’m going to let my agent and the organization try to figure out. But hopefully, it’s a position where we can assemble the best team we need.

That's a much more sensible and generous take on an impending contract than what we've witnessed from other quarterbacks who've wanted, and ultimately received, monstrous extensions over the past few offseasons. 

Think Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan

Heck, we can't blame those signal-callers for desiring an exorbitant amount of money after producing at prolific levels and winning Super Bowls at the game's most difficult and vital position in an increasingly pass-happy league. 

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 31:   Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers addresses the media during Super Bowl XLVII Media Availability at the New Orleans Marriott on January 31, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The 49ers will take on the Baltimore R
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

But Kaepernick's realization and public voicing of the idea that "there has to be room for everyone" and hopefully, the 49ers can be put in a position "where they can assemble they best team they need" comes off as unique, forward-thinking and, frankly, rather intelligent. 

Pushing aside Kaepernick's refreshingly unselfish stance on his second deal, let's look at San Francisco's 2014 salary cap situation. 

Per, the 49ers are set to be just $2.541 million under a projected cap of just over $126 million next season. According to Matt Maiocco of, Jim Harbaugh's team has "an additional $2.175 million in carryover of unused cap space from the 2013 season."

To put it succinctly, San Fran won't have an abundance of money to spend. 

Also according to, here's a visual of the 49ers positional cap hit sizes on offense next season (hat tip to Erik Frenz for the idea):

Kaepernick's relatively minuscule bubble representing his $1.630 million cap hit in 2014 is instantly noticeable, as are the handsomely paid guards and running backs. 

Also, Dan Kilgore, with a cap hit of only $685,075 next year, will be the only true center on the roster if incumbent starter Jonathan Goodwin isn't re-signed. 

Don't forget, Anquan Boldin's a free agent and Michael Crabtree is entering the final year of his rookie contract, too. 

Here's the same diagram for the defense:

San Francisco has gotten to three-straight NFC Championship Games with tremendous linebacker play, studs on the edge, a hodgepodge of defensive tackles and decent cornerbacks. 

Those players have and will be paid accordingly. 

Missing from that picture is impending free-agent safety Donte Whitner, who had his finest professional season in 2013 even after running mate Dashon Goldson signed a huge deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2012 campaign. 

Will San Francisco be willing to let Whitner walk? How about veteran cornerback Carlos Rogers? Remarkably, his $8.094 cap hit is set to be the highest on the entire roster in 2014. According to Maiocco, the 49ers would create $3.6 million in cap room if Rogers is released. 

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19:  Strong safety Donte Whitner #31 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts in the first half while taking on the Seattle Seahawks during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo b
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

While it's impossible to predict whom general manager Trent Baalke will look to re-sign—if anyone—the general conclusion that should be drawn from this is that the 49ers will need to do some crafty structuring if they decide to give Kaepernick an extension. 

Based on his words, Kaepernick isn't necessarily demanding a Flaccoian six-year, $120 million deal with $29 million guaranteed. 

How should he be paid then? 

Well, after bursting onto the scene midway through the 2012 season, the former second-round pick from Nevada drastically cooled off in his "sophomore" starting campaign. 

With teams able to study his tape, and without Michael Crabtree for most of the season, Kaepernick's regression wasn't totally surprising and doesn't mean he's bound to decline in the future. 

Here's how he stacks up against his fellow quarterbacking contemporaries:

Comparing Colin Kaepernick to his QB Contemporaries
'12 Accuracy Percentage'13 Accuracy PercentageTD % in '12 and '13INT % in '12 and '13YPA in '12 and '13
Colin Kaepernick76.069.34.6 and 5.01.4 and 1.98.3 and 7.7
Tony Romo74.473.04.3 and 5.82.9 and 1.97.6 and 7.2
Joe Flacco68.067.84.1 and 3.11.9 and 3.67.2 and 6.4
Aaron Rodgers80.279.37.1 and 5.91.4 and 2.17.8 and 8.7
Jay Cutler70.074.04.4 and 5.43.2 and 3.47.0 and 7.4
Matt Ryan76.078.45.2 and 4.02.3 and 2.67.7 and 6.9
Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference

("PFF's Accuracy Percentage accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the quarterback was hit while they threw the ball - factors that hurt the quarterback's completion percentage but don't help show how accurate they are.)

One would think that Kaepernick's numbers haven't come close to the collection of recently minted quarterbacks; most of them actually do, and some are better. 

In a vacuum, it wouldn't be outrageous for Kaep and his agent to command a huge contract commensurate with his numbers that stack up favorably to guys like Romo, Cutler and Ryan and that are clearly better than Flacco's. 

(After all, Harbaugh hand-picked Kaepernick after he Wally Pipped a super efficient, turnover-immune Alex Smith during the 2012 season.)

But factoring in Kaep's apparent approval of spreading the wealth, understanding that the 49ers don't have considerable cap space in 2014 and with Aldon Smith, Mike Iupati and Crabtree also free agents in 2015, the 49ers quarterback likely will have to "settle" for a less lucrative deal. 

And that's OK. 

A somewhat backloaded, five- to-six-year-deal worth upwards of $90 million with $35-40 million guaranteed for Colin Kaepernick—call it a "discount" deal—seems to be the most logical, both for the quarterback and the long-term viability of the 49ers roster. 


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