April Fool’s Day may have no relevance to the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick, after all.
The trio of offseason surgeries to Kaepernick (including a left shoulder procedure that landed him on IR in November) may have already tied the team’s hands as to the $11.9 million in salary owed to Kaepernick in 2016. Technically guaranteed for injury only until April 1, if the 49ers were to cut him while still injured they likely would owe him the money — even if Kaepernick later becomes healthy.
Per a source with knowledge of the NFL Players Association’s position on the matter, the union would argue that cutting Kaepernick before April 1, if he’s still injured, results in the salary becoming fully guaranteed and unavoidable, absent whatever offset the 49ers would receive if/when Kaepernick signs with another team in 2016. But he could take a one-year, minimum-salary deal elsewhere if he wanted, with the 49ers on the hook for the difference between what he gets in a new city and the $11.9 million.
Common sense would suggest that cutting Kaepernick before the salary becomes fully guaranteed would keep the team on the hook only if he’s still injured when the regular season arrives, since the money was guaranteed for injury only prior to April 1. But Article 44 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which sets forth the procedure for an injury grievance, generally defines the term broadly to encompass any situation in which a player contract is terminated at a time when the player “was physically unable to perform the services required of him by that contract because of an injury incurred in the performance of his services under that contract.”
In other words, if a player is injured at the time a payment becomes due or an existing obligation becomes fully guaranteed, he can’t be cut. If he is, he gets whatever money he would have earned if he hadn’t been cut.
On the surface, it’s irrelevant because the 49ers continue to say that they’re keeping Kaepernick beyond April 1. Which isn’t simply puffing, as one source with knowledge of the situation told PFT.
But the truth is that the 49ers, who aspire to “win with class,” apparently won’t be rolling the dice on the nothing-to-lose argument that ditching an injured Kaepernick before his salary becomes fully guaranteed avoids the obligation. It doesn’t mean he can’t later be traded, but whoever would acquire his services would be stuck with the full salary. And once the full salary becomes fully guaranteed, Kaepernick has far less of a reason to take less in order to facilitate a trade.
To summarize, the 49ers can dump Kaepernick and avoid the $11.9 million in guaranteed 2016 salary only if he passes a physical before Friday. Currently, there’s no indication that he’s able to do so.