Regardless of whether the Broncos and 49ers have an agreement of something close to it regarding what it could take to get quarterback Colin Kaepernick (there are differences of opinion on that point), one thing seems clear: The Broncos and Kaepernick need to work out how much he’ll make before the Broncos and 49ers can resolve their business, whether that business is already resolved or whether additional work needs to be done to finalize the draft-pick compensation.
The issue of trade compensation has become a distant second to the question of whether and to what extent Kaepernick will reduce his $11.9 million salary for 2016, which became fully guaranteed as of April 1. Kaepernick also is due to make up to $2 million in per-game roster bonuses and a $400,000 workout bonus.
As to 2016, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Broncos are willing to pay Kaepernick $7 million. The Broncos and Kaepernick want the 49ers to pay the balance of $4.9 million. But the 49ers haven’t been willing to pay any of the money because they think they shouldn’t have to pay anything for a player they want to keep.
This, of course, assumes they want to keep him. Many believe the 49ers are saying just enough to create the superficial impression that they want him, but that the door has been left open for a trade. If they truly wanted him, the 49ers would be saying what the Vikings said last year about running back Adrian Peterson, when he was agitating for a trade: “He’s not being traded; he’ll play for us or for no one this year.”
The 49ers easily could take that position, especially since they control Kaepernick for the next five years under the notoriously team-friendly contract he signed in 2014. But the problem is that, if the would-be starting quarterback doesn’t want to be there, it’s difficult for the team to thrive since the starting quarterback must be all in for a team to succeed. He’s a coach on the field, setting an example for the rest of the roster by showing up early, staying late, studying film, and doing all the other things that a quarterback does to inspire his teammates to do all the things they need to do.
So the situation has become awkward and untenable, fueled by well-timed leaks that make a trade seem inevitable. But if Kaepernick wants out that badly, he should be willing to take less. And if the Broncos want Kaepernick that badly, they should be able to work out a deal with the quarterback that has him take less money in 2016 in exchange for something on the back end, whether it’s a new incentive package or the elimination of three or four years of the contract, giving Kaepernick a path to free agency while he’s still only 29 or 30.
That’s the key for getting this done, if the 49ers refuse to pay for the privilege for unloading Kaepernick. And it’s a reasonable position for Kaepernick to take. If the Broncos don’t want his contract as written, then the two sides should negotiate a new contract from scratch. For Kaepernick, one year and $7 million to be the starter for the defending champion could be a lot more valuable than five years and whatever real money and fluff remains from the deal he signed two years ago.
Because that outcome makes the most sense under these circumstances, it’s likely to never happen.