One of my readers asked for a possible number for the 49ers to use on extensions for Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith. While I haven’t had a chance to look more at Smith in depth I thought touching on Kaepernick would make for an interesting topic as he could be one of the first rookie extensions of the new CBA when the season is over.
The first thing that I think is worth mentioning is that Kaepernick is very difficult to compare with other players. Kaepernick was drafted in 2011 but essentially did not play at all in the 2011 season. In 2012 he began the year backing up Alex Smith before an injury got Kaepernick into the starting lineup, though it seems clear that the 49ers front office was leaning towards trying Kaepernick anyway. He has started all of 7 regular season games and only thrown 218 passes.
Kaepernick was extremely effective last season and he ranked 2nd in the NFL to RGIII in my incremental yards per play metric for QB’s. But teams now have a full year to prepare for him and the various skills he brings to the table. Last year had the potential to be the perfect storm for Kaepernick who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl before falling just short of the comeback victory. So to put a value on him is difficult and I’ll be making the leap of faith that he continues to do well.
From the 49ers perspective they would have rather extended him this past season. With 2 years remaining on a rookie contract and such a limited sample size they would have had tremendous leverage with Kaepernick in negotiating a very team friendly contract. Adding 5 big money years to his existing contract would have not damaged their salary cap in the short term and allowed them to move guarantees out of the way early in the event 2012 proved to be a fluke and they wanted to move on by 2015. Now its more difficult because if he comes back to earth the market is still going to believe that 2013 was the fluke and 2012 was the real deal. So the 49ers will only see their leverage decrease this year barring a total collapse.
Since 2000 there are very few starting quality QB’s who would have been extended after just 3 seasons in the NFL. Tom Brady got extended after just 1 season as a starter and two in the NFL. Coming off the Super Bowl win the Patriots paid Brady about 62% of the salary of Drew Bledsoe, who I believe led the NFL in contract value when Brady’s contract was signed. Carson Palmer sat for the first year of his career and was signed right at the end of the 2005 season so the Bengals more or less had 2 years of playtime to view. He ended up setting the marketplace at $16.1 million a year, though the number is a bit misleading as Palmer had 3 years remaining on his contract at the time he signed the deal. Neither Matt Schaub nor Kevin Kolb had any track record and their deals reflected it. Schaub earned about 50% of market while Kolb only received a 1 year extension. Finally there was Mark Sanchez who was the only player to accrue 3 years of full stats before getting his lucrative extension.
In the brief sample Kaepernick’s passing stats are significantly better than anyone on this list and that doesn’t even take into account the rushing ability. Still outside of the Palmer contract none of these players set a market and really none came close. All of the contracts were in many ways risk averse. Schaub was locked up for 6 years, Brady 4, Anderson and Sanchez 3, and Kolb just 1.
In terms of leverage Brady and Kolb both had 1 year remaining on their deals, Anderson and Schaub were restricted free agents, and Sanchez had two years remaining. Palmer was really unique in that he as a number 1 overall draft pick and represented hope for a franchise that seemed hopeless since Boomer Esiason fizzled out. Kaepernick will have 1 year left.
Barring a Super Bowl title, which would be a longshot based on the recent history of the runner up position, I would say that the ability of Kaepernick to set the market is remote. Based on the numbers here he should settle in somewhere between $16.5 and $18 million a year over his extension years, which would probably be 4 years. While that may seem low it is going to be more than the $15 million or so franchise tender projection that would be in play in 2015 if Kaepernick played his contract out. You would have to weigh earning a total of $16.1 million from 2014 to 2015 compared to likely earning double that in cash if he signs an extension.
Though the 49ers are more successful that the Packers were in 2008, there will probably be a lot of pointing to the Aaron Rodgers contract signed in November of that year. Rodgers was in the NFL for 3 ½ years but was seeing the first playing time of his career. He was on pace for 4000 yards and signed a 5 year extension worth $12.7 million. That was slightly less than 80% of the max contract at the time. Rodgers had 1.5 years left on his deal at the time and the contract was structured in a way that the Packers could escape from it in 2010 in the event 2008 proved to be a fluke. My guess is the higher the dollar figure the more team friendly the contract will be in terms of cap structure and escape points.
Still Id say that this is a very incomplete picture because he has such a small track record. While I don’t think he has much to lose this year keeping up the same pace over 16 games in 2013 will give him a chance to push his numbers and years a little higher, especially if the teams bucks the odds and ends up in the Super Bowl. A player Im sure we will revisit multiple times during the 2013 season.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.