This week, with a relatively small sample size to choose from, the San Francisco 49ers are being asked to make a franchise-impacting decision concerning whether or not to sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a long-term contract. It's a decision every franchise is faced with at one point or another – at what point does a franchise pony up the huge money for a contract with a player and when does it back away?
The Vikings have had a pretty decent track record in that regard. When they traded for Jared Allen, part of the trade was an impressive contract that, to his credit, Allen cashed in every dime because he earned it. The same has gone for players like Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway and Brian Robison. They've got the big second contract and justified the love of the franchise.
Other players, like Percy Harvin, for example, were allowed to walk because the Vikings were hesitant to invest tens of millions of dollars on a player the team wasn't sure would be "all in" with the concept and scheme moving forward. There's no questioning Harvin's ability, but at what price?
When it comes to a quarterback, when you start getting into the realm of a potential nine-figure contract with an eight-figure signing bonus, a team has to be sure of what it's getting in return and that the investment will be worth the initial outlay of cash.
In the current era of the NFL, teams make investments on the hope that their confidence is rewarded on the field. At the end of last season, the Vikings had some difficult decisions to make at defensive end. Allen was allowed to leave and Everson Griffen was paid and retained. It's part of the business of football.
It's been a long time since the Vikings have been posed with the "pay me or else" scenario with a quarterback. When Brett Favre fell into their laps, it was a no-brainer. Pay the man $15-20 million a year. He had proved that he had earned it.
Prior to that, the last time the Vikings had such a financial implication at quarterback was when Daunte Culpepper was signed to a massive contract – only to be traded two years later. It's the law of the jungle in the NFL, a "what have you done for me lately?" business like few others.
The 49ers are going to have to make a decision whether they believe Kaepernick will be a star – not just now but, three, four, five years from now. The kind of investment he will require will likely be in the $100 million range over five years with approximately one-third of that total being tied into a signing bonus. For a player with just a year-and-a-half of starting experience, that's a pretty big gamble.
As the Vikings move forward with a pair of first-round quarterbacks on their roster, it seems clear that Christian Ponder won't be the guy getting the long-term, megabuck second contract. He hasn't earned it. Teddy Bridgewater? Now that's another story. The Vikings will likely have three or four years to determine whether he is the answer to their prayers at quarterback, but, like other franchises looking at the risk-reward side of things, the decision will have to come at some point whether he is the future of the offense or not.
If the Niners announce over the next couple of weeks that Kaepernick has been signed to a huge contract extension, we will know where the franchise's beliefs are at with the position. If he isn't re-signed, it may speak just as loudly. If there is a wild card as to when the Vikings decide to make Bridgewater the starting quarterback, players like Russell Wilson and Kaepernick may be their guide. Both of them were thrown into the fray early on and, to date, both have lived up to their hype.
The goal of any player is to sign that second, big-money contract. When it comes to quarterback, you want as large a sample size as possible. The longer Bridgewater sits, the less empirical evidence the team has going for it in making that decision. Given the implications, it may be in the long-term best interests of the franchise to get Bridgewater on the field as soon as possible to start the process of gauging whether he has what it takes to be a franchise quarterback or if he's just another guy. Either way, it will be an expensive proposition – one that pays off and gets Bridgewater paid off in three years or one that sets the offense back by admitting the decision to draft him was a mistake.
In the "what have you done for me lately?" world of the NFL, those decisions make or break teams. Fortunately for the Vikings, they have time to determine whether Bridgewater was worth the initial investment, much less a long-term commitment.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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