Over the weekend, a report emerged that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wants $18 million per year. Some have thereafter suggested that he wants $20 million per year.
If that’s true, our advice (money-back guarantee) for the 49ers is simple: Wait a year. For several reasons.
First, Kaepernick currently has no leverage. (He’d have even less if the 49ers had moved up not to the top of round two but to the bottom of round one in 2011, since the 49ers would then hold an option for 2015.) Unless he plans to hold out of training camp, which would squander plenty of goodwill with the fan base, Kaepernick has to play out the 2014 season before the 49ers face the sign-him-or-tag-him dilemma.
Second, Kaepernick has started only 23 regular season games. That’s not nearly enough to come to the conclusion that he should be paid at the top of the market.
Third, Kaepernick has struggled at times in the regular season. He had a few ugly stretches in 2013, and his numbers when under pressure aren’t stellar.
Fourth, Kaepernick’s success may have more to do with coach Jim Harbaugh than with Kaepernick’s abilities. If, as it appears, Harbaugh knows how to get the most out of any given quarterback, Harbaugh would still be successful if given another quarterback with NFL-caliber skills.
Fifth, by not paying Kaepernick a contract worth $20 million per year as of 2014, the 49ers automatically bank $19 million for future use, since Kaepernick’s 2014 salary is below $1 million. That works out to $3.16 million extra per year on a six-year deal.
Sixth, the salary cap suddenly is expected to grow at a rate higher than the top of the quarterback market. That will make it easier in future years to fit a $20 million quarterback contract under the cap. It also will make it easier to apply the exclusive franchise tag to Kaepernick in 2015, in order to eliminate the risk of someone signing him to an offer sheet and giving up a pair of first-round picks.
Seventh, Kaepernick’s mobility translates to a higher injury risk. The longer the team can avoid assuming that risk via a huge signing bonus, the better.
Eighth, there’s presently no guarantee that Harbaugh will be the coach next year. (Sorry, 49ers fans, but that’s true.) A new coach may want a new quarterback. Likewise, if Harbaugh ends up coaching another NFL team, maybe he’ll offer more than a pair of first-round picks in order to get Kaepernick away from the 49ers.
Ninth, all stats aside (and there are plenty of stats to support any given media agenda or bias), Kaepernick is zero-for-two when it comes to delivering in the ultimate clutch. Two seasons ago, he failed to get the ball to Michael Crabtree from the doorstep of the goal line with the Super Bowl in the balance. In January, Kaepernick underthrew slightly a pass to Crabtree when Crabtree was covered in the end zone by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, in a situation where the ball should have been placed in a spot where Crabtree or no one should have been able to touch it.
Tenth, it’s unclear whether Kaepernick will be a true leader. In San Francisco, Harbaugh seems to be the off-and-sometimes-on-field field general. If Harbaugh weren’t such a fiery and animated presence, would Kaepernick fill that void? Would he know what to say and when to say it, when the team needs to have the right thing said at the right time?
For all those reasons (and possibly more — I always lose interest after the list hits 10), the 49ers should wait. And if Kaepernick pulls a Flacco and wins a Super Bowl, they should be happy to pay Kaepernick at the very top of the market in 2015.