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Senior NFL Columnist

Kaepernick's big deal good for Niners? Only if he improves in pocket

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In 32 regular-season games, 23 of those starts, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a completion percentage of 59.8 percent, averages 157.7 passing yards per game and has 31 touchdown passes in those games.

For that, he's worth a contract that will pay him $126 million with $61 million in guaranteed money, one that makes him the second-highest paid player in the league to Aaron Rodgers. Really?

If you would have told me a decade ago that a quarterback going into his fourth year who still has problems standing on the spot and making his reads would be given a contract worth that type of money, I would have said you were nuts.

I know we're in this era where the chic thing is to say the run-around quarterbacks are it, but like Steve Young recently said: You have to stand on the spot and make the throws in the NFL.

For all his wonderful athletic ability, Kaepernick still doesn't do that. Pop in any tape and take a look for yourself. You will see a quarterback who relies far too much on athletic ability than his sense of sitting in the pocket and going through his progressions. That has to change -- or this deal will look foolish in a few years.

As Phil Simms often says: Nobody gets faster as they age. So when Kaepernick slows down, he will have to be a quality pocket passer. He sure wasn't that last season. There were times when he made some nice throws and reads and looked to be growing as a pocket quarterback.

But too many other times, he seemed to revert to his old ways, which is to read one and then run. He often got away with it because he is so fast and elusive and does put up some impressive running numbers. But it won't always be that way.

That's why this contract is so shocking to me. I know he's in the final year of his deal, but why not wait until the halfway point of the season to do something? Why not see if he's making that progress as a pocket passer?

Kaepernick has done some special things in his time starting for the 49ers, getting them to a Super Bowl in 2012 and then to the NFC Championship Game last season. But isn't this rushing to reward him?

He is 17-6 in his regular-season starts, but how much of that is because the 49ers are a damn good team, rather than his play? After all, Alex Smith, who they traded, was 19-5-1 in his starts under coach Jim Harbaugh before being benched for Kaepernick in 2012.

In 2013, Kaepernick threw for 3,197 yards and 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Not bad, but not great either. His completion percentage of 58.4 was among the NFL's worst, and was down from the 62.4 percent he had in 2012.

To put his completion percentage in perspective: Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon completed 59.4 percent as a rookie and Buffalo's E.J. Manuel was at 58.8 percent. Accuracy matters.

Kaepernick seems like a good kid who works at his craft, so I get the notion that the 49ers are paying on what's to come, not what's happened already. But they must have a great feeling that he will develop into a quality passer, seeing something that I haven't seen so far.

Let's face it, the legs will go. They always do. That's why Young, who had to undergo a similar transformation from athlete playing quarterback to quarterback when he played, came out this week and made the comments that Kaepernick needs to stay put and make his reads.

The fans and the media tend to get so caught up in the new breed of quarterback, the guys who don't have to do it the conventional way. They get excited by their running style, their ability to get outside the pocket and their lack of convention when it comes to playing the position.

Yes, it is exciting -- and unpredictable -- at times. But as I've talked to many general managers, quarterbacks, former quarterbacks and coaches over the years, the one thing they all say is this: If you can't throw from the pocket, no matter how good you are outside of it, you are doomed.

Is there anything in Kaepernick's resume that says he can do it? Or that he will do it?

I know. I know. He's a winner. He's a leader. He's a winner. He's a leader.

The last NFL quarterback they said that about who couldn't make it playing inside the pocket is no longer in the league, but praying for another chance and likely readying for a life talking about football.

Kaepernick is far better than that guy, but unless he improves as a pocket thrower, this deal could be one that comes back to haunt the 49ers. They have a talented roster now, but that will change as this deal kicks into place. That's what happens when quarterbacks take up a bulk of the cap.

Then it's all on Kaepernick. Is he up to it? Time will tell, but as of this moment I think the 49ers got a little bit ahead of themselves on this one.

Colin Kaepernick's contract banks big on his improvement as a passer. (USATSI)
Colin Kaepernick's contract banks big on his improvement as a passer. (USATSI)


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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