When news broke that Colin Kaepernick had struck a six-year, $126 million contract extension with a record-breaking $61 million guaranteed, many responded by saying, "The 49ers overpaid."
I was ready to write a column admitting the 49ers were basically forced into overpaying a bit to ensure they didn't lose their franchise quarterback to free agency after the 2014 season, when his rookie contact concluded.
Then Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk released details of his contract extension, and it's a team-friendly deal, to say the least. I'd even go a step further: It's a steal for San Francisco.
Only about $13 million of the "guaranteed" $61 million is actually guaranteed to be Kaepernick's. That's because the Niners can cut Kaepernick before April 1 in any given year and not have to pay him what's left of the unpaid guaranteed money at the time unless he gets injured. Florio broke it down like so:
As one source put it, Kaepernick can feel good about the deal because he has a lot more guaranteed money today than he had yesterday. But the same source also added that the 49ers are nevertheless “thrilled” with the contract, which allows them to control Kaepernick’s rights for seven years and to move on after any of the next six seasons, if they ultimately decide that Kaepernick is more like the guy who struggled at times during the 2013 regular season and less like the guy who found the gas pedal in the playoffs.
Naturally, Kaepernick was in a good mood during Wednesday's press conference announcing his contract. He knows the ball is in his court. If he becomes a superstar quarterback in 2014 and sustains his level of play through the length of his deal, he can make the entire $126 million.
However, he really just received six one-year deals. And as CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweeted, he isn't making top dollar for the first few years of his contract anyway:
I expected the 49ers to be forced into a much more devastating contract.
On one hand, Niners executives could've pointed to Kap's relatively pedestrian per-game numbers as their argument that he doesn't deserve elite quarterback money in contract negotiations.
But more than any of that, I thought his agents would play the "you have no choice because you don't have a good backup" card. I thought they would ask for at least $20 million in base salary annually starting in 2015. I thought that the $61 million guaranteed would actually be guaranteed (barring a crazy turn of events such as early retirement, going to jail, etc.).
I thought wrong.
Now, the 49ers have control of their guy. Most likely, he'll take big strides early on and see almost every penny of this deal. Jim Harbaugh thinks he's due for big things in 2014.
"I really expect that real breakout year for Colin," Harbaugh said, per Taylor Price of 49ers.com. "He just has the look and feel that he’s going to break out, more so than he already has."
If he does have a breakout year, if he does see all $126 million by deal's end, the 49ers will be ecstatic. That would mean he performed up to their expectations. That would mean he either took the 49ers to the Super Bowl or was named first- or second-team All-Pro to avoid triggering his contract de-escalators. And if he falls short of expectations, they'll cut him before the contract is up.
It's a win-win from the 49ers' point of view.
As the salary cap is projected by most to rise in the coming years, Kaepernick's contract may look like an absolute bargain soon. Will Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson's agents demand $25 million per year after seeing Kap's deal? How about $30 million?
But even if Luck and Wilson get about $20 million per year in their next deals (like Kap got), there's no way they're going to agree to a contract structure that makes it so easy to be cut.
Today, the 49ers can rest easy. They have the guy they think is the quarterback of their future signed through 2020. But on the off chance they're wrong, they can cut ties with him without much financial burden at all.