SANTA CLARA, Calif. - With Colin Kaepernick's lucrative new extension taking effect in 2015, discussion surrounding its implications has been rampant.
Most of the talk about the six-year, $114 million extension he signed last summer revolved around minimal guarantees making the deal very team-friendly for the 49ers. Only Kaepernick's salary for the coming season is guaranteed. Next offseason, San Francisco will be able to rid themselves of Kaepernick at minimal cost, which is an uncommon stipulation when it comes to new contracts for quarterbacks throughout the NFL.
All this is true.
But there's another important truth about the extension: Kaepernick's contract falls right in line with other lucrative deals the 49ers have inked with other marquee players. Small guarantees have been a key piece of the this front office's framework when it comes to important contracts.
The key difference between Kaepernick's deal and others is the maximum value (which is unlikely to be fully realized) because he plays quarterback. Otherwise, signing players to long-term deals with minimal guarantees has been something San Francisco's front office has done consistently over the last few seasons.
Consider Kaepernick's $12.97 million in guarantees versus some of the team's other long-term contracts (figures according to Overthecap.com):
NaVorro Bowman: 5 years, $45.25 million, $11 million guaranteed
Joe Staley: 6 years, $44.65 million, $10 million guaranteed
Ahmad Brooks: 6 years, $40.4 million, $8.5 million guaranteed
Vernon Davis: 5 years, $36.750 million, 11.11 million guaranteed
Anthony Davis: 5 years, $33.2 million, $8.38 million guaranteed
Antoine Bethea: 4 years, $21 million, $6.25 million guaranteed
Each contract is different. But you'll notice the theme of the 49ers' significant long-term deals is minimal guarantees.
Minimal guarantees are important because they allow the team flexibility to maneuver within salary cap restrictions. For example, Bowman restructured his deal last offseason to help make room for Kaepernick's extension by converting base salary into a signing bonus. Brooks did something similar last July.
San Francisco has two players with deals including more guaranteed money than Kaepernick: Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. Willis signed his deal (5 years, $50 million, $20.3 million guaranteed) in 2010, well before the team had any other significant contracts to worry about, including one for a franchise QB.
Smith's $9.75 million for the coming season is fully guaranteed for injury, giving him a total of $14.384 million in guarantees after what he accrued during the first four seasons of his rookie deal. The 49ers could re-work Smith's deal, making it more cap-friendly, by signing him to an extension this offseason with a pro-rated signing bonus over the next few seasons, if they choose.
Arguments have been made that 2015 is a "lame-duck" season for Kaepernick, which could be true if his production dives significantly and San Francisco decides to go another direction next season.
But that standing isn't unique to Kaepernick in the 49ers' group of stars.
The same can be said for Bowman, Staley, Willis and others. They could all be lame ducks, but the positions they play change the conversation about their contracts. The cap savings and dead monies of those deals, in proportion, are very similar to those of Kaepernick if the 49ers elected to cut those players and save salary cap dollars in coming offseasons.
So yes, Kaepernick's deal is largely team friendly, as are just about all the remaining long-term contracts San Francisco has put together in recent seasons.
On average, Kaepernick's $19 million per season rank sixth in the NFL among QBs. But he also has de-escalators built into his deal that could lower his figures. Here are his cap numbers (subject to change) over the six years of his deal:
The minimal guarantees could allow the 49ers and Kaepernick to renegotiate his deal each season, should they elect to keep him around. That aspect of the deal was not a key bullet point in the negotiations, I've been told.
Kaepernick said repeatedly after signing the extension that it was a team-friendly deal designed to help the team to spend money elsewhere. The cap numbers indicate that would be hard to do, but the minimal guarantees make it easy for the 49ers to renegotiate and convert his base salary into a pro-rated signing bonus that ultimately gives the team more cap space, like what Bowman and Brooks did last offseason.
The 49ers went outside the box with Kaepernick's deal, to be sure. Twenty quarterbacks have more guaranteed money in their contracts. But on the other hand, the total value of Kaepernick's deal is third in the NFL, although those numbers will change when Russell Wilson signs his pending contract.
Wilson's deal could be in stark contrast to Kaepernick's, according to a report.
If what's speculated in that report is true, Wilson's contract could have the exact opposite effect of Kaepernick's. If the Seahawks elect to make the entirety of Wilson's contract guaranteed at lower yearly cap numbers, they could benefit greatly if he continues to play at his current level.
The obvious downside: if Wilson regresses or gets seriously injured, Seattle would be on the hook for all of his money without the same insulated recourse San Francisco built into Kaepernick's deal.
The risk for Kaepernick resides in his play. If 2014 becomes a blip on the radar and not a sign of things to come, then Kaepernick will have a chance to bank the majority of his contract's value. But if Kaepernick proves the team can't contend with him at quarterback, the 49ers have the option to look elsewhere, as they do with Bowman, Willis, Staley, and their other expensive players.