Looking at Kaepernick’s Injury and Contract

The 49ers placed Colin Kaepernick on injured reserve yesterday, a few short weeks after benching him for what the 49ers said would be a temporary move to the bench to help Kaepernick clear his head. After backup Blaine Gabbert won his start with the team it seemed the 49ers were already pulling away from the temporary benching and this type of injury, much like Peyton Manning’s, is often a blessing in disguise for a team because it makes the whole process much neater. But since there may be some confusion on the Kaepernick contract I thought I would clarify some of the points surrounding the contract.


The decision to put Kaepernick on IR is likely 70% tied to finances. Kaepernick has massive injury guarantees in his contract which kick in if he is severely injured to the point where he can not pass a physical prior to his release. While Kaepernick had to take out an insurance policy with the 49ers as a beneficiary I would guess that primarily deals with football disability and not a relatively a minor injury that simply occurs near the offseason and prevents the team from cutting him before he gets healthy a few weeks later. Either way from a salary cap perspective the 49ers would have to wait some time to receive a credit and would be required to count Kaepernick’s contract in full on their 2016 salary cap.

Putting him on IR is essentially a way of managing the risk in his contract. When Gabbert went down for a few plays against the Falcons, Kaepernick had to come in as the backup.  You do not want a minor injury turning into a big one by taking a bad hit in a game that you have no intention of playing him in. Even if this shoulder could not get worse, there is a tendency to try to hide your injured area and unwittingly expose something else to get hurt as well.

We are at the point in the season where a major injury would have implications on the release of a player in the offseason. On April 1 Kaepernick’s $11.9 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed and protected for the entire 2016 season. Currently it is guaranteed only for injury. We are about 19 weeks away from that point, which means there is ample time to recover from injury, but the later we get in the season the less recovery time is available and the more risk is absorbed that the player will not be fully recovered by April 1. It’s a guarantee he’ll be fine by then now and can be released.

The 49ers also had $875,000 that they could prevent Kaepernick from earning this season by putting him on IR. Kaepernick has massive per game active roster bonuses in his contract, a concession he made in order to get a contract that on paper was valued as a top market contract. The 49ers could have deactivated him on gameday to avoid that payment, but that would have probably made a bad situation even worse and also damaged their leverage in trying to trade him in March. So this gives the team an easy way to neatly cut that $875,000 out of his contract. That $875,000 will be a credit applied to the 49ers salary cap in 2016 and his cap charge for next season will also be reduced in the offseason by $875,000.

30% of the move I would say is tied to planning for next season’s attempt to trade Kaepernick. The spin doctors will be out in full force discussing how this injury occurred early in the year but Kaepernick really tried to play through it. The spin will come from both the 49ers and his agents since both benefit from it so it should be a widespread effort. Kaepernick’s failures on the field will be chalked up to his hiding a bad shoulder in a game and in trying to protect it from future injury played poorly. Now he is all healthy and he will return to form looking like the dynamic player from 2012 and 2013.

I am actually surprised that the 49ers did not look for a way to IR him sooner to make his initial exit from the team easier to explain around the league. All I can guess is that they wanted to see Gabbert play and practice to see how the team reacted to him before pulling the plug on Kaepernick’s season.  If the sides can spin the injury as the major reason for the poor play than delaying it had no impact.

The injury also creates an interesting contractual situation where a team that acquires him could hide millions in offseason cap money in roster bonuses to create an incentive filled contract that benefits both sides. Any per game active roster bonus next year will count 9/16ths against the cap and not begin to further accrue until game 10. This is the way the Cowboys were able to fit Greg Hardy’s contract under the cap in the offseason. Teams can find ways to manage these incentive payments if the player fails to prevent them from earning the money. Currently Kaepernick has $14.3 million in payments set for next year and would carry am offseaon cap charge in a trade of $13.425 million, somewhat similar to Sam Bradford’s salary this season. Bradford was traded in the offseason to the Eagles.

By no means is Kaepernick considered injury prone, but if he is really looking for a new start he may be willing to sign a contract that has even bigger roster bonuses than his current one. After all he bet on himself with this initial contract, so why wouldn’t he bet on himself again?  This can also increase his trade value if he restructures with the 49ers in the offseason to facilitate the trade.

The 49ers can carry Kaepernick on the roster until April 1 with no financial liabilities beyond the sunk cost of his signing bonus prorations. So any move will happen between the start of the 2016 League Year and April 1. It would be pretty surprising at this point if he is a 49er on April 2.

  • McGeorge

    Why would a team trade for him, knowing 100% he’ll be cut?
    They don’t even know how good he’ll be, so they wouldn’t want to pay him 12MM.
    They want to sign him to a new contract.
    If they trade for him, they have him at 11.9, don’t they?
    No one wants that.

    My question is: what team would take him and what would their plans be? Let him sit for a year to learn? supposedly he didn’t improve while working with Kurt Warner.
    Would Chip Kelly try him out?
    Hopefully not the Jets.
    Cleveland is a magnet for bad QBs. And the Texans need a QB.

    • I think tem trading for him would be a team fearful that they would not land him in free agency. If they trade prior to 4/1 they would have time to modify the contract. Id imagine they can even do a trade where compensation doesnt kick in until 4/2 tying it to his being on the roster.

      I think if a team trades for him the plan would be to use him. I cant envision him going to a bad team though you can never discount the Browns or Jets making a move. My feeling is you want him only if you have a solid defense and I think you would be more inclined to sign if the weather is better. The Texans and Rams are two teams that I think would put him right in.

      He is made for what Kelly wants to run but Id be worried about his ability to deal with the cold of December and the intense fan and media pressure that would come with a move to Philly. They already took a chance on Bradford so I dont see the salary scaring them away at all.

      I dont see the sit and learn scenario working well with him. From everything you hear and the way he carries himself I dont think that he is absorbing stuff on the sidelines. I think its more that he has great physical tools and he is always going to believe he can rely on those to win. If you are going to take a backup job and I think this goes for RG3 as well the place to go is Pittsburgh. They have a QB that is likely to miss a few games a year and a system that they will adjust to suit whomever plays the position.

      • Aric_Bardwin

        I agree with everything except the mention of him going to the jets. Fitzpatrick has been lights out in several games this year. People seem to glance over the former harvard QB but he plays with heart every game, and plays well in a lot of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fitz is the QB on the Jets for a long time.

        I could see him in Philly just because of the nature of the deal he signed in SF alone. The guy didn’t get robbed or lied to. He took that incredibly team friendly deal to help the organization. Team first, knowing that if he wasn’t playing, the team wasn’t going to be hurt. I think part of that is a bed on himself, and the other part is the team mentality. I still think he would be a good fit for my eagles, but I wonder how we would be able to swing his salary and bradford’s contract.

        I imagine bradford will be signing something of an alex smith type contract next year with the eagles. somewhere in the 12-17 range. Hopefully they structure it like Vick’s last mega deal where the guarantees are incredibly low. I like bradford, I just really question his reliability behind a patchwork O-line trying to run the read option.

  • eddiea

    With April 1 being the guarantee date,what happens if during rehab he re-injures himself or gets an infection requiring more surgery and he can’t pass physical? Do they work something out,give injury settlement or owe him $12M salary? Just wondering b/c all recovery time isn’t the same,just an avg.

    • They would owe him the $ if his injury or any injury that occured related to his rehab prevented him from being healthy enough to play football on April 1

  • Jeffrey Hannah

    Hi Jason,
    I have a few questions regarding Colin Kaepernick’s contract situation.
    1. Let’s say he fails his physical and he ends up making the $11.9 Million from injury guaranteed, would Niners still consider cutting him?
    2. If he does get the $11.9 Million, how much of this will count against the 49ers salary cap?

    Thanks.