The contract given last week to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has up to $61 million in “guaranteed” money. The only problem is that the bulk of the truly guaranteed money came from his signing bonus of $12 million and change.
The contract given this week to Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has a signing bonus of $13 million — more than Kaepernick. It has no other “guaranteed” money.
The absence of other “guaranteed” money quietly has become the Steelers way. From players like Troy Polamalu ($10.5 million to sign, no other guarantees) to linebacker LaMarr Woodley ($13 million to sign, no other guarantees) to receiver Antonio Brown ($8.5 million to sign, no other guarantees) to linebacker Lawrence Timmons ($7.125 million to sign, no other guarantees), that’s how the Steelers do it.
The biggest exception has been Ben Roethlisberger, whose 2008 extension had a signing bonus north of $25 million and another $8 million in guaranteed salary over the first two years of the contract.
In many respects, the lack of guaranteed money doesn’t matter because money guaranteed for injury only isn’t really guaranteed money. Who if anyone has ever cashed in via the kind of career-ending injury that triggers payment of injury-only guaranteed money?
Despite Kaepernick’s total “guaranteed” money, Pouncey actually has a better structure, at least in the early years of the deal. For Kaepernick, the 49ers have until April 1 each year to decide whether to dump Kaepernick before guaranteed money becomes fully guaranteed. For Pouncey, the Steelers have to actually pay Pouncey $3.75 million on the third day of the 2015 league year and another $3.5 million on the third day of the 2016 league year.
While the money isn’t guaranteed, it guarantees that the Steelers will make a decision about whether they want to continue with Pouncey early enough in the offseason to give Pouncey more than enough time to land elsewhere, while the market is still flush with cash. Kaepernick could, in theory, be cut loose on March 31, making it very hard to scare up a big payday elsewhere.
It all leads to a fair question: Why do players even insist on injury-only guarantees? It could make more sense to secure other terms and then buy disability insurance. Especially if players like Kaepernick will be expected to pay for a disability policy that would give the team $20 million of its $49 million in guaranteed money back, if Kaepernick suffers a truly career-ending injury.