Before the 2013 season began, it seemed likely if not inevitable that, come February of 2014, the 49ers would be figuring out how to come up with the cash and cap space needed to give big-money contracts to quarterback Colin Kaepernick and linebacker Aldon Smith, both of whom will be eligible for new deals after completing their third NFL seasons.
Now, for entirely different reasons, it seems likely if not inevitable that both players will play the 2014 season under their current contracts.
For Smith, a string of troubling off-field issues will keep the guy who has 38 sacks in 37 career games from getting the kind of contract he would have gotten in 2011 but for the adoption of a new rookie wage scale. It became obvious once Smith took a leave of absence to enter rehab that the 49ers won’t be breaking the bank until he shows that he has overcome his various predicaments.
For Kaepernick, there’s only one predicament. And it’s a big one. Goes like this: Kaepernick suddenly stinks.
OK, he doesn’t stink in comparison to the quarterbacks who truly stink (and they know who they are). But Kaepernick stinks in comparison to the high bar he established last year.
It didn’t appear it would be that way, way back in Week One. With the Packers still skittish about Kaepernick running wild in the 2012 playoffs — and with coach Jim Harbaugh rope-a-doping Green Bay into thinking more of the same was coming — Kaepernick threw for 412 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
In the nine games since then, he’s averaging a measly 154.4 passing yards per game, with eight touchdowns and seven picks. And the 49ers have won five games and lost four.
If that trend continues, Kaepernick will get a new deal after the season only if he’s willing to do something based not on his 2012 coming-out party but on his 2013 coming-down-to-earth performance. Which means that Kaepernick is now likely to play out his rookie deal (at $973,766 in base salary next year), with the 49ers having the franchise tag available in 2015 to keep him from leaving.
Based on how he’s played so far in 2013, it’s currently hard to imagine anyone offering him more money than the 49ers will.
But at least Kaepernick sold out off the field, while there was still something to sell.