After signing, with an old-old-school quill pen, his new contract, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick explained to the media that he agreed to the deal as designed in order to help the team sign and keep other players.
“Part of the way the contract is written and the way it was negotiated was so they would be able to sign other players,” Kaepernick said. “That was something that my agents and the organization worked out and they felt like this was something they would be able to get other players with.”
So how does the deal accomplish that objective? Based on the full numbers we obtained late Wednesday night, Kaepernick’s paltry (relative to other franchise quarterbacks) signing bonus of $12.328 million results in only $2.05 million per year in cap space through 2019 being devoted to the up front payment. Coupled with his base salary of $645,000 and workout bonus of $100,000, Kaepernick’s cap number for 2014 stands at a very manageable $2.795 million.
Next year, when his salary moves to $12.4 million with a $2 million per-game roster bonus and a $400,000 workout bonus, the cap number spikes to $16.85 million. Which is roughly what his cap number would have been if the team had used the franchise tag on Kaepernick next year. Of that amount, $2 million goes away if Kaepernick doesn’t take at least 80 percent of the snaps or if he fails to lead the team to the Super Bowl or to be named first-team or second-team AP All-Pro. So the cap number could be as low as $14.85 million.
For 2016, the salary moves to $13.9 million with another $2 million in per-game roster bonuses and $400,000 workout bonus. That’s a cap number of $18.35 million, which will drop to $16.35 million if he doesn’t take at least 80 percent of the snaps or if he fails to lead the team to the Super Bowl or to be named first-team or second-team AP All-Pro in 2014 and 2015.
The cap numbers, subject to the annual $2 million de-escalator, for the rest of the deal are $20.95 million in 2017, $21.45 million in 2018, $23.25 million in 2019, and $23.4 million in 2020.
The deal allows cap space to be created in any given year via a restructuring that converts base salary to bonus money. However, that reality applies in all long-term, big-money deals. There’s nothing unique to the structure of the Kaepernick deal that makes it any easier to sign other players — other than the fact that the contract represents less than the current market value for franchise quarterbacks.
Over time, Kaepernick’s contract will reflect less and less of the current market value for franchise quarterbacks. If the top of the market was a true $20 million per year when the cap was $123 million per team, what will the top of the market become when the cap spikes above $140 million in 2015? By 2016, it could surpass $160 million. If the top quarterbacks received 16.26 percent of the available cap when the per-team limit was $123 million, the top of the market will be $26 million by the time the cap moves to $160 million.
Kaepernick, with a deal that pays out $13 million in 2014, as much as $14.8 million but as little as $10.4 million in 2015, as much as $16.3 million but as little as $11.9 million in 2016, as much as $18.9 million but as little as $14.5 million in 2017, as much as $19.4 million but as little as $15 million in 2018, as much as $21.2 million but as little as $16.8 million in 2019, and as much as $23.4 million but as little as $19 million in 2020, quickly will find himself well below the going rate for true franchise quarterbacks — no matter how well he plays as he adds to a career that consists for now of only 23 regular-season starts but several memorable postseason performances.