It's become fashionable to bash Colin Kaepernick's new deal with the 49ers, and some seem intent on making a cottage industry out of it. But, with the numbers officially entered in the NFLPA database this morning, let's take a look at a few key metrics and compare apples to apples.
In terms of an injury guarantee, the $61 million figure is indeed the most ever given to a player. That protection bests the previous high of $60.5M for Drew Brees, which if I recall correctly people were championing for Tom Condon and CAA at the time. Well, Kaepernick's injury protection is higher, and also surpasses Aaron Rodgers ($54M), Matt Ryan ($59M) and Joe Flacco ($51M). Those are facts.
This contract has rolling guarantees that require Kaepernick to be on the team's roster each April, but -- guess what? -- so does pretty much every big contract these days. Kaepernick's true guarantee is $13M, just like Richard Sherman's true guarantee is $12.4 or Earl Thomas' true guarantee was $11M, yet you don't hear anything close to the degree of scorn expressed for those contracts, which were done by big agencies.
As we know by now, Kaepernick made his biggest concession in terms of a signing bonus. He agreed to a $12M signing bonus, which is indeed a lot less than many others but is right there with guys like Sherman and Thomas, who, while they aren't quarterbacks, are considered among the best at their position.
An established veteran quarterback like Jay Cutler got $5M to sign in his new extension, and Peyton Manning, yeah him, he got zilch to sign. Coming off his neck situation there was no signing bonus, and future guarantees tied to him staying healthy and passing a physical after his first season in Denver. So, yes, that too was a pay-as-you-go format for even the great Mr. Manning.
Let's also keep it in mind that Kaepernick has only started for a season and a half, he was set to make just $1M in the final year of his rookie deal with no real injury protections, and that was going to mitigate his leverage somewhat. Yet for him to land a deal that, even if his is stuck with all de-escalators, averages $19M a season, is hardly the end of the world. And if he does make it to the Super Bowl as a starting quarterback this season, or make the All-Pro team, then his average per year becomes $21M, which would be second highest in NFL history, behind only Rodgers.
So if we want to take a look at his total Year 1 money, because of the lower signing bonus, it is not nearly as high as some others. Rodgers and Brees each made $40M in the first year of their new deal (both were veterans with a Lombardi Trophy) while Ryan and Flacco made $30M in the first years of their new deals. Kaepernick will make $31.1: Manning, by comparison, made $18M.
But let's take a look at the metric that most NFL cap guys I speak to regularly focus on: the three-year average of the deal. As we know most deals are backloaded and for one reason or another and many of these contracts are redone after three seasons, It's the nature of the business and the cap. Using the NFLPA's numbers, as computed in their "new money" model which looks at the money that becomes available to a player after having signed his contract, Kaepernick does quite nicely.
Assuming he gets saddled with all of his de-escalators, which would be $2M a season, then Kaerpenick's average salary over the first three years of the deal is $18.666 million. Here's how that compares:
|QB three-year averages|
Now, if Kaepernick expunges all of his de-escalators this season, his average per year over the first three years is $20.666, which would be behind only Rodgers and Ryan. And, if he expunges the de-escalator in say 2015 or 2016, then obviously the average comes in somewhere between the two. But even assuming the worst from the de-escalator standpoint, Kaepernick would be sixth in the NFL in the all-important three-year average.
And the reality is that there is minuscule chance he would not be there at least three years, and, again, if he isn't there that long due to an injury, well he has that record $61.M to fall back on. And, as a note on de-escalators and this salary structure, it is a model the 49ers use frequently. NaVorro Bowman, the face of their defense, has de-escalators in his deal.
The hard reality for players is that -- as I have noted several times in recent years -- teams are loathe to guarantee, in full, big chunks of money up front, complaining that it limits their liquidity since they have to vouch for those future dollars by putting money is escrow, as per NFL policy. That outdated protocol should be something the union focuses on changing, because the rolling guarantees aren't going away and the money "guaranteed" to players, if anything, seems to be on the decline when you factor in skill, cap and injury actual full guarantees.
Here is how the deal reads in a cash and cap perspective for its entirety. The cash figures include his in-season bonuses each week for being on the active roster. And, again, these figures assume the contract de-escalation each season:
|Breaking down Kaepernick deal|
|Year||Cash||Base salary||Cap number|
There is a lot of money on the table, and it is structured in a way that won't handcuff the 49ers' ability to sign other players (if they were to ever cry it did, it wouldn't fly). There are no huge spikes, no years with cap numbers well over $20M, and plenty of flexibility.
Kaepernick is betting on himself to unlock the chance to earn that $12M that is tied up through de-escalators. And, if you want to play out the worst case scenario and he somehow gets cut after this season for a reason other than injury -- infinitesimal as that may be -- he gets $13M rather than $1M in the meantime and would have a pretty fertile free agent market staring him in the face, still in his mid-20s and not even yet in his prime.
You could argue the contract could be better in terms of its payout the first few years, but it could also be a heck of a lot worse. Kaepernick's time as a starting quarterback at the time of this deal pales in comparison to Manning, Brees, Ryan, Rodgers, Flacco and Romo ... and pretty much everyone else in the league who isn't on a rookie contract anymore.
Some of the people who went out of their way to lay out all the reasons why Kaepernick didn't deserve anything close to even Cutler money seem intent on still trying to prove that point, but the numbers in some key metrics tell a different story.