Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreed to before the 2011 season, players can extend or alter their contracts after their third year in the league. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who led the 49ers to back-to-back NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance, just finished his third season. He's set to make a base salary of $973,766 in 2014 but is looking for substantially more than that.
Kaepernick and the 49ers have begun discussions about a new deal and according to the Boston Globe's Ben Volin, the former second-round pick is looking for something along the lines of Jay Cutler's recent contract that pays him $18.1 million per season with $38 million guaranteed.
For some perspective, in 2014, $18 million per season would, on average, rank tied for seventh among all quarterbacks after Aaron Rodgers ($22 million), Matt Ryan ($20.7 million), Joe Flacco ($20.1 million), Drew Brees ($20 million), Peyton Manning ($19.2 million) and Cutler (Tony Romo's contract averages $18 million per season).
"While no one expects the 49ers to let Kaepernick go anywhere," Volin wrote over the weekend, "we hear that if the 49ers don't get in Kaepernick's range, the quarterback would be willing to play the 2014 season at his base salary and postpone negotiations until next offseason instead of signing a below-market deal."
And before you suggest Kaepernick would be foolish to do that, it worked for Flacco, who played out his rookie deal, won a Super Bowl, then got a huge payday (see above).
Back in January, days before the 49ers lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora wrote that some executives believed "Even a hypothetical two-year deal that paid Kaepernick the 2013 franchise tag for quarterbacks ($16.5 million per year) -- $33M for two years -- likely wouldn't fly." But that was only if the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl.
"Should the 49ers lose," La Canfora added, "the 49ers might retain a sliver of leverage, given he is still under contract for 2014, plus the fact the 49ers conceivably could franchise him in 2015 and 2016 (though that is a rarity for quarterbacks)."
Kaepernick completed 58.4 percent of his passes last season, which is worst among the top 10 quarterbacks in Football Outsiders' QB efficiency metric. And even when you factor in dropped passes, Keapernick's accuracy percentage (as measured by ProFootballFocus) is 69.3, ahead of only EJ Manuel, Joe Flacco, Geno Smith and Eli Manning.
When Kaepernick faces pressure, his completion percentage drops to 43.6 and his accuracy percentage drops to 55.1, last among all NFL starters.
This doesn't mean Kap's not worth $18 million, at least relative to the other quarterbacks getting that kind of money. The real question is if the 49ers will be the team to pay him.
“Both sides in a contract negotiation, both sides are using analytics and data to help support -- it's confirmation bias to the max, everybody's trying to find evidence that supports whatever theory or contract demand they want to make,” 49ers president Paraag Marathe said recently, via ESPN.com's Mike Rodak. "They can cut it and slice it in a lot of ways that help you."
One thing everyone agrees on: sustained success starts with a franchise quarterback.
"That's the single biggest differentiator," Marathe said. "If you can get by with average talent, but if you have a superior quarterback, you'll see the best quarterbacks -- the Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- it doesn't matter what kind of talent they have, even if they have really bad talent around them, they're going to finish 7-9 [or] 8-8. They're never going to go 3-13."