That’s the spin certain industry insiders are trying to put on the situation, according to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.
Kaepernick is only earning about $13 million in guaranteed money over the course of his new contract. That’s less than many top guards earn—Logan Mankins, for comparison, earned $21.5 million in guaranteed money.
The argument goes that the 49ers would be hard-pressed to give a guard like Mike Iupati more guaranteed money than they gave their starting quarterback. It would upset the salary structure to give someone other than the player at the most important position the most guaranteed money, all things being equal.
The logic seems a little spurious. The argument seems to be that the supposed leader of the team should earn the most money as Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio puts it. Firstly, I’m not sure I’d count Kaepernick as the leader of the team yet; it’s hard not to give that particular designation to Patrick Willis.
Secondly, I think it’s a false dichotomy. One of the reasons Kaepernick says he signed such a team-friendly contract is to allow the 49ers flexibility to sign players like Michael Crabtree or Mike Iupati to long-term deals.
It is entirely possible, then that Crabtree or Iupati could get more lucrative deals than Kaepernick, at least compared to the baseline for their respective positions. The theory seems to be that this would be awkward and difficult to deal with—but that’s Kaepernick’s explicitly stated reason for having such a team-friendly deal.
It would seem to be more upsetting to Kaepernick if the team didn’t give a large extension to at least one of the two. While it would be great for the team if every player took below-market deals to stay in San Francisco, that’s not realistic. To keep Crabtree or Iupati, the 49ers will likely have to give them deals with significantly more guaranteed money.
If Kaepernick and the 49ers had had a long, drawn-out, contentious negotiation, complete with franchise tags and sniping back and forth in the media, I could buy the quarterback being upset with a maximum extension being given to another player at a “lesser” position.
However, considering the relative ease of the negotiations—remember, Kaepernick could have played this season on his original contract and forced the 49ers into a difficult situation next offseason—and the stated intentions of Kaepernick, it doesn’t seem like there would be any hard feelings if Crabtree or Iupati get paid. After all, Kaepernick’s contract escalates in value if he becomes an All-Pro, which can be helped by surrounding him with receivers of Crabtree’s quality.
No, I think it’s more likely that there would be friction between quarterback and team if both Crabtree and Iupati walk next season. That might cause Kaepernick to wonder why he gave the 49ers so much flexibility, if they weren’t going to spend the cap space on re-signing his offensive weapons.
If the team’s going to lose top players anyway, perhaps he should have gone for a more Joe Flacco-esque deal, with plenty of guaranteed money up front. If the team’s not going to use the flexibility Kaepernick’s deal gives them, it would have made more sense from Kaepernick’s point of view to try to get a much larger signing bonus.
In the end, however, the 49ers are going to offer Crabtree and Iupati precisely what they think they’re worth, without worrying about whether it will hurt Kaepernick’s feelings one way or another.
The team is not in the habit of giving large amounts of guaranteed money to players. Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis and Kaepernick are the only three players currently on their roster who got a $10 million or more signing bonus. If another team offers more money than the 49ers are willing to pay, San Francisco's front office is fine with letting that player walk—see Donte Whitner and Tarell Brown. They’re going to stick to their salary structure and not get drawn into a bidding war.
It feels like these rumors are being spread not because of potential unhappiness in San Francisco’s camp, but in potential unhappiness among agents about Kaepernick’s contract. If Kaepernick had gone to the free market, he almost certainly would have gotten a better deal. Teams like the Arizona Cardinals or Houston Texans would have loved for Kaepernick to play for them and would have almost certainly offered significantly more guaranteed money.
If Kaepernick’s deal becomes in vogue for future contract negotiations with Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, then that means less money in the hands of agents. It’s the job of the agent to get the most money for his client(s), and Kaepernick’s deal sets a bad precedent for some of these upcoming deals.
These agents need to paint the deal as either being an aberration or being actually harmful for team chemistry in the long run if they want to maximize the deals their quarterbacks will be getting, and so “unnamed industry insiders” are coming out and saying Kaepernick’s contract could strain current and future negotiations with other NFL signal-callers.
I don’t believe the Kaepernick deal will significantly impact the upcoming contract negotiations in any way other than giving the team more flexibility with which to work. No, it doesn’t guarantee Crabtree and Iupati will have new contracts for 2015, but that’s more of an issue of how much money they’ll be asking in general, and not due to any potential awkwardness or hard feelings.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on twitter.