San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has dealt with a lot this past season.
Despite taking his team to a second straight NFC Championship game, there were questions about his leadership and his decision making, both on and off the field. He had to watch his biggest rival win a Super Bowl he failed to capture the year before (though, admittedly, he was gracious in defeat). He even had to deal with a Madden Cover controversy.
But there’s one thing he no longer has to deal with: a new contract.
And, boy, did he get a doozy.
Earlier today, Kaepernick, the soon-to-be third-year starter for the 49ers, inked a record six-year contract extension reportedly worth a whopping $126 million, with a guaranteed $61 million – the most guaranteed cash in NFL history. He is now signed on with the team that drafted him until the 2020 season.
The deal marks the end of a drama-filled offseason saga in which he dealt with teammates in hot water, others holding out of minicamp, and an investigation of his own that remains open until August.
It also puts Kaepernick, a young signal-caller who already has a 21-8 record as a starter under his belt, among the ten highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, including Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers ($110 million), Atlanta’s Matt Ryan ($103.75 million), Baltimore’s Joe Flacco ($123.6 million) and Chicago’s Jay Cutler ($126.7 million).
It certainly is a lot of money for a designated team leader who has not gotten his team the championship San Francisco has been craving for more than two decades. Despite this, head coach Jim Harbaugh has put an exceeding amount of faith in the athletic 26-year-old, as indicated last week during minicamps:
I really expect a real breakout year for Colin. Athletically, he looks bionic. If you all remember “The Six Million Dollar Man,” that’s what it looks like to me. He’s very gifted and he always has been. He has the look and feel of a guy who’s really going to break out, even more so than he already has. I’m really excited about everything about his game right now.
This isn’t surprising, considering the amount of praise he has heaped upon Kaepernick since he burst onto the scene as a starting QB back in 2012. But whether Kaepernick is worth as much money as the franchise was willing to pay him is still up in the air. The fact remains that it was he that came up relatively small in last year’s NFC Championship game, accounting for three turnovers – including the game-ending interception by CB Richard Sherman in the end zone in the final seconds.
And, let’s not forget that, with the substantial amount of money thrown Kaepernick’s way, there won’t be as much left to go around when it comes time to sign talented veterans like OG Mike Iupati and WR Michael Crabtree. It will likely take a lot of financial jiujitsu in order to keep the core of the team intact without breaking the bank.
[Edit (6/5/2014): I stand corrected, according to this Deadspin article breaking down how the contract ends up being extremely team-friendly.]
However, Kaepernick’s improvisational skills with the football, his improving accuracy, and a high propensity for offensive production despite a lack of consistent weaponry, were enough for the 49ers to agree to the record deal. After all, the potential Kaepernick has, doesn’t come along very often. Again, he has only started in 29 games in his career, and with the arsenal at his disposal in the 2014 season – including a trio of talented WRs in Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson – there are many reasons to believe he can improve upon the production of his first two seasons.
This also places a much higher importance to the club’s recent propensity for drafting and cultivating young talent. With old veterans like Justin Smith and Frank Gore reaching the end of their respective careers sooner rather than later, they will likely rely much heavier on incoming talents like Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Hyde and Tank Carradine to fill the holes they will leave in the near-future. Hopefully, the team’s knack for identifying talent will keep them among the league’s strongest for years to come.
Ultimately, however, the 49ers shelled out the money knowing full well they needed a franchise QB for the future. And, despite the hefty price tag, they were confident that Colin Kaepernick fit that bill.
Now, he will need to fulfill his place among the echelon of great 49ers QBs before him, in order to justify such an extravagant deal. It starts with the upcoming 2014 season, and, Fate Willing, a victory in Super Bowl XLIX.