San Francisco 49ers Pay Colin Kaepernick, But Can He Ever Live Up To His Contract?

Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick
Kirby Lee USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers signed Colin Kaepernick to a six-year contract extension through the 2020, paying him up to $126 million with $61 million guaranteed. That puts him among the NFL’s highest-paid players.

But according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk there are few asterisks to that $61 million:

“Technically, the deal has $61 million guaranteed, even though $6 million of the guaranteed salary could evaporate (more on that later). Either way, only $13.073 million is guaranteed at signing. It comes in the form of a $12.328 million signing bonus, a base salary of $645,000, and a workout bonus of $100,000.”

Additionally, Kaepernick’s base salaries are “only guaranteed for injury.”

So even with the big numbers jumping off the page, this is not a bad deal for San Francisco.

But it does put immense pressure on the young signal-caller, and only the Niners are to blame for this decision.

Kaepernick is a good up-and-coming player, but he is a raw passer and still relies too much on making athletic plays with his feet as opposed to in the pocket. He happens to be on a championship-contending football team, and the weapons around him on the offense and his standout defense help to mask his deficiencies.

Statistically speaking, Kaepernick ranked 20th among passers with 3,197 yards and 17th in touchdown passes with 21. For comparisons sake, both Alex Smith and Ryan Tannehill ranked ahead of him in both categories. Kaepernick finished the season with a mediocre 91.6 quarterback rating.

Kaepernick’s accuracy rating, according to Pro Football Focus, was 69.3 percent, putting him in the same vicinity as a declining Eli Manning, puzzling Geno Smith and extremely average Joe Flacco.

And for all of the superb athletic plays he delivers, he’s equally as bad. What’s worse than inconsistency at the quarterback position?

Kaepernick is getting paid like he’s the reason for the 49ers’ success, not the quarterback he truly is. He’s still a project under center, one that needs tweaking from head coach Jim HarbaughHe shows flashes of greatness, like during the team’s playoff routs of the Green Bay Packers the past two postseasons, but he delivers stinkers just as often.

Paying Kaepernick this sum of money this early in his career is a major mistake. The Packers did something similar with Aaron Rodgers, but let’s safely proclaim Kapernick and Rodgers aren’t in the same hemispheres as quarterbacks.

Allotting him this mega-deal suggests his play is deserving of it, and that isn’t the case. The problem is San Francisco didn’t want to risk low-balling him or losing him, then regretting it later.

If the San Fran offense struggles this fall, the blame won’t go on Harbaugh. It won’t go on an aging Frank Gore or declining Anquan Boldin. It’ll fall on Kaepernick, and deservedly so. The organization paid him to be the centerpiece of the offense, and any steps in the wrong direction are because he hasn’t transformed into the player it anticipated.

I’m not saying Kaepernick won’t evolve into a top-tier quarterback; I just don’t think it’s likely. I think he and Russell Wilson have a similar ceiling — playmakers who are above-average passers with a knack for delivering the clutch. Neither will be a Rodgers, a Peyton Manning or a Drew Brees, so why is there a standard that these players have to be paid like one?

Money means pressure, much of it unwarranted. Now it’s on Kaepernick to take another leap forward.

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.