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Colin Kaepernick will get $20M deal whether 49ers pay now or later

/ CBS Sports NFL Insider

More NFL offseason: Prisco: Players each team should keep | Best free agent fits

Colin Kaepernick won't be signing any contract for $18 million a season. Not for $18.5 million per year, either. The idea he would be happy to land a deal in the range of what Tony Romo or Jay Cutler is earning is a complete and total misnomer. Ain't happenin'.

So I'll let you in on a little secret: The 49ers already know this. Unequivocally. Their negotiations with their young franchise quarterback are still in their infancy, but they are quite aware there aren't any bargain deals to be had here. Far from it. Talks with Kaepernick, if they truly get off the ground, will begin at $20 million a year.

As I first reported back in January, Kaepernick is perfectly willing to gamble on himself, a la Joe Flacco, and will play out his rookie contract if need be (he is signed through 2014). He won't be doing any "bridge contracts" or "band-aid deals," and I can tell you that an extension in the range of the Romos and Cutlers and Staffords simply is not happening.

This kid is confident enough and stubborn enough and motivated enough and focused enough to stick to that position no matter what the 49ers put before him. I can assure you that. He won't budge for less than he believes he is worth. This shouldn't be a revelation based on what I've reported before the NFC title game and earlier this offseason and again, last week, during the combine.

But in the wake of a Boston Globe report pegging Kaepernick's magic number around $18 million, I cannot emphasize strongly enough how far a deal structured in that manner will fall short.

So I'm going to let you in on another little secret: Kaepernick believes he is a top-five quarterback. Staunchly. Now, you and I can debate this -- and likely will, later in this here column -- but in the end, what I think and what you believe is irrelevant. San Francisco eventually has to get Kaepernick to agree to sign away the next five-plus years of his playing career, and that absolutely, positively will not come cheap. At a time when Aaron Rodgers is the league's top-rated passer at $22 million a year, and an aging Peyton Manning is the fifth-highest paid at $19.2 million a season, Kaepernick feels, in his bones, to his core, that he belongs somewhere between there, and I bet sometime in the next three months he gets just that, same as Flacco and Ryan did a year ago.

Now, Kaepernick would never express any of these feelings publicly, and there's no need for him to. In the end, all the talking that needs to occur happens on the field. The body of work speaks loudest.

So, Kaepernick, if he signs a contract extension with the 49ers, will be doing so in the range of $20 million per season, putting him among the top five or six salaries in the history of the game. Otherwise, he'll play for his $1M in 2014 and then force the issue with the 49ers as to whether they franchise him, or sign him to what will in all likelihood be an even more massive contract come 2015 if this kid continues to develop as rapidly as he has to this point. And you can go ahead and ask the Ravens if they would have preferred to have Flacco signed at around $16.6M annually, as they could have in 2011, or Flacco at $20.1M annually, as was the case when he put pen to paper after winning the Super Bowl following the 2012 season.

Timing, alas, is everything. And time is very, very much on Kaepernick's side.

The sample size is small, but Colin Kaepernick's numbers as a starter are elite.   (USATSI)

The sample size is small, but Colin Kaepernick's numbers as a starter are elite. (USATSI)

If you think after starting only a season-and-a-half it's too soon to start talking contract extension with him, you are entitled to your opinion. If you maintain the sample size is still too small to go big on Kap, so be it.

But the reality is the 49ers kicked off contract talks with Kaepernick's agents at the unmistakable corner window table at Prime 147 in Indianapolis a few weeks back -- a ubiquitous hot spot that is overflowing with media, agents, GMs and coaches every night during the combine -- so the club very much wants the league to know Kaepernick is their guy and they want to do a deal with him now (furthermore, these negotiations also serve as a positive public relations distraction from some of the nasty infighting going on in that organization these days, centered around coach Jim Harbaugh).

So the reality is these sides are talking, right now, and we can only judge Kaepernick's value based on what he has been able to display so far. And, to me, if you want to talk to this kid now about a contract, you had better be ready to meet him at $20 million a year. I've asked the question to a multitude of GMs and scouts and NFL decisions makers and other agents, and, the vast majority of them agreed that if you are going to start going down the path of a new deal with Kaepernick, a 2011 second-round pick, then based on his performance to this point, including a near Super Bowl win and then a march back to the NFC Championship, you had best be prepared to pay the man, big time.

Here are but a few reasons why:

Kaepernick currently stands third in postseason history in yards per pass attempt (among anyone with 100 playoff pass attempts), at a gaudy 8.48.

His average of 9.9 yards per scrimmage touch, in the NFL playoffs, is the best in league history for any quarterback.

Kaepernick is second all-time among quarterbacks with 507 scrimmage yards in the postseason, behind only Hall of Famer Steve Young (and Young amassed that yardage on 96 carries, while Kaepernick has only 51 playoff rushing attempts). Oh, and those 51 playoff rushes are already 10th in NFL history for any quarterback, yet Kaepernick has played only six postseason games (4-2). John Elway, by comparison, had 94 rushes for 484 yards all-time in the playoffs.

In fact, let's take a deeper look at how Kaepernick stands against his modern-day competition in terms of career playoff performances. And pay special attention to total yards per game (passing and rushing, gross), in the final column. It's fairly staggering. Andrew Luck is the only person close, and Luck has no rushing TDs and more INTs than passing TDs:

Kaepernick's playoff productivity: A comparison
QB W-L Win % QB Rating Pass Yds Yds/Att TD/Int Rush Yds Rush Avg TD Total Yds (Avg)
Colin Kaepernick 4-2 66.7 87.3 1,374 8.48 1.4 (7/5) 507 9.9 4 1,881 (313.5)
Tom Brady 16-6 72.7 89.5 5,385 6.79 1.9 (38/20) 80 1.5 3 5,465 (248.4)
Peyton Manning 9-10 47.6 88.6 5,389 7.51 1.5 (29/19) 27 1.2 3 5,416 (285.0)
Joe Flacco 5-4 55.6 69.0 1,532 6.20 1.0 (8/8) 63 1.9 1 1,595 (177.2)
Ben Roethlisberger 5-2 71.4 86.6 1,547 8.19 1.1 (12/11) 125 3.9 2 1,672 (239.0)
Drew Brees 4-3 57.1 106.1 2,052 7.20 7.5 (15/2) 25 1.6 0 2,077 (296.7)
Eli Manning 4-2 66.7 88.2 1,128 6.88 1.6 (8/5) 14 1.4 0 1,142 (190.3)
Mark Sanchez 4-2 66.7 94.3 1,155 7.36 3.0 (9/3) 9 0.8 0 1,164 (194.0)
Matt Ryan 1-4 20.0 85.2 1,230 6.58 1.3 (9/7) 18 1.6 0 1,248 (249.6)
Philip Rivers 2-2 50.0 81.8 997 8.45 0.8 (4/5) 1 0.1 0 998 (249.5)
Tony Romo 1-3 25.0 80.8 832 6.16 2.0 (4/2) 21 3.0 0 853 (213.2)
Andrew Luck 1-2 33.3 70.0 1,062 7.59 0.8 (6/8) 85 7.1 0 1,147 (382.3)
Andy Dalton 0-3 0.0 56.2 718 5.84 0.2 (1/6) 58 4.8 0 776 (259.3)
Jay Cutler 0-2 0.0 84.8 354 8.43 2.0 (2/1) 53 5.3 2 407 (203.5)
Carson Palmer 0-2 0.0 66.5 212 5.73 1.0 (1/1) 2 2.0 0 214 (107)
Colin's Rank: -- 3rd 6th -- 1st -- 1st 1st 1st 2nd

Now let's take a look at how Kaepernick has fared against every other full-time starting quarterback in the NFL since he took over for Alex Smith in San Francisco midway through 2012 (including regular season and playoffs). It's fairly astonishing.

His passer rating of 92.8 is eighth best in the entire league of qualified passers in that span, ahead of Matt Ryan and Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton and Jay Cutler and plenty of others. It's also way, way ahead of Luck and Flacco and Ryan Tannehill, for comparison's sake. (Oh, and Matt Stafford, he of the $18 million contract, is not even in the top 25).

In yards per attempt, Kaepernick trails only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson in that span (Wilson isn't eligible for a contract extension until 2015, as a 2012 draft pick, and, trust me, count Pete Prisco among those who know I will be constructing a column just like this on Wilson's behalf a year from now, as I am a champion of his as well). Kaepernick stands 11th in TD passes in the NFL (38) since taking over as starter, one behind Flacco and three behind Luck -- despite far fewer attempts -- and only four behind Wilson and five behind Ryan.

However, Kaepernick's 16 INTs -- in 29 total regular season and playoff games -- puts him in the most elite company, as Rogers, Alex Smith, Wilson and RG3 are the only full-time starters with fewer picks in that span. In terms of TD-to-INT ratio, Kaepernick is right there with Brees since taking over as a starter, and his percentage of first-down passes is sixth best (37 percent), on equal footing with guys like Rogers and Brady and Brees. Always impressive company to keep.

Only Brees (68) and Peyton Manning (67) have more completions of 25-plus yards since Kaepernick became a starter (he has 61) and only eight other men have more overall passing yards since he took over for Smith. And when you factor in total scrimmage yards, in the regular season and playoffs, Kaepernick's uniqueness becomes even more unmistakable.

Since Kaepernick received his first NFL start, he has 185 rushes (regular season and playoffs), tied with Cam Newton for most among all quarterbacks. Yet Kaepernick has 1,269 rushing yards, over 200 more than Newton in that span (Wilson is the only other quarterback in the league with over 1,000 scrimmage yards). Newton and Kaepernick are tied with 10 rushing TDs (playoff and regular season) since Nov. 18, 2012 (no other quarterback has more than six in that span), while Kaepernick's 43.8 scrimmage yards per game are most of any regular starter in that span (Cam is at 42.8). Kaepernick's mark of 6.9 yards per rush blows away the competition (Wilson is next at 6.1), and further cements him as a freak-of-nature talent.

Don't believe me? Check out this chart, which includes the NFL leaders at quarterback in the regular and postseason since Nov. 18, 2012, the week that Kaepernick made his first NFL start (with a minimum of 10 starts since then):

Now let's consider how young Kaepernick is. How much he has flashed already in the postseason. How, compared to anyone other than Nick Foles in this above chart, he looks like a baby, just making his first start at a time when even other relative youngsters like Wilson already has a career in minor-league baseball and had been starting games in the NFL in the first half of 2012 before a concussion to Smith first opened the opportunity for Kaepernick.

NFL QB leaders since Nov. 18, 2012: Regular and postseason (minimum 10 starts)
Player Team G Att Cmp Pct Yds Y/A TD TD% Int Int% Lg Sk Lst Rate 1st 1st% 25+
1. Peyton Manning Den 27 1083 739 68.2 8631 7.97 79 7.3 20 1.8 78t 32 206 108.8 451 41.6 67
2. Aaron Rodgers GB 19 613 411 67.0 5156 8.41 35 5.7 10 1.6 83t 51 297 105.2 231 37.7 52
3. Russell Wilson Sea 27 677 434 64.1 5744 8.48 43 6.4 12 1.8 80t 72 418 104.6 265 39.1 59
4. Nick Foles Phi 20 583 365 62.6 4566 7.83 34 5.8 6 1.0 63t 48 312 102.0 205 35.2 39
5. Philip Rivers SD 25 814 542 66.6 6226 7.65 46 5.7 14 1.7 60t 62 348 101.1 320 39.3 48
6. Drew Brees NO 25 1019 682 66.9 8051 7.90 59 5.8 24 2.4 76t 50 331 100.3 387 38.0 68
7. Tony Romo Dal 22 839 537 64.0 6128 7.30 47 5.6 16 1.9 85t 54 429 96.6 301 35.9 45
8. Colin Kaepernick SF 29 770 457 59.4 6179 8.02 38 4.9 16 2.1 64t 61 362 92.8 287 37.3 61
9. Matt Ryan Atl 25 992 675 68.0 7109 7.17 44 4.4 27 2.7 81t 54 370 92.1 362 36.5 37
10. Alex Smith SF-KC 17 555 339 61.1 3697 6.66 27 4.9 7 1.3 79t 41 225 91.7 181 32.6 25
11. Ben Roethlisberger Pit 20 717 450 62.8 5239 7.31 37 5.2 18 2.5 67 54 364 91.6 253 35.3 37
12. Cam Newton Car 24 712 433 60.8 5372 7.54 36 5.1 17 2.4 79t 60 453 91.1 255 35.8 42
13. Robert Griffin III Was 20 606 370 61.1 4494 7.42 30 5.0 15 2.5 68t 50 364 90.1 221 36.5 40
14. Tom Brady NE 27 1064 640 60.2 7664 7.20 46 4.3 18 1.7 83t 57 378 89.6 395 37.1 52
15. Jay Cutler Chi 17 534 328 61.4 3840 7.19 26 4.9 16 3.0 67 29 182 87.0 182 34.1 31
16. Sam Bradford StL 14 525 308 58.7 3317 6.32 25 4.8 10 1.9 80t 25 158 85.2 171 32.6 21
17. Andy Dalton Cin 25 880 532 60.5 6094 6.93 43 4.9 28 3.2 82t 58 302 84.3 293 33.3 44
18. Mike Glennon TB 13 416 247 59.4 2608 6.27 19 4.6 9 2.2 85t 40 314 83.9 126 30.3 15
19. Carson Palmer Oak-Ari 22 762 477 62.6 5569 7.31 31 4.1 27 3.5 91t 50 361 83.5 268 35.2 34
20. Ryan Tannehill Mia 22 764 458 59.9 5087 6.66 30 3.9 19 2.5 67 74 481 82.5 263 34.4 31
21. Joe Flacco Bal 27 962 566 58.8 6538 6.80 39 4.1 25 2.6 74 70 471 82.1 312 32.4 53
22. Matt Schaub Hou 19 716 459 64.1 4910 6.86 21 2.9 22 3.1 54t 38 309 81.1 243 33.9 27
23. Matt Cassel KC-Min 10 270 161 59.6 1900 7.04 11 4.1 9 3.3 79t 17 86 80.8 84 31.1 13
24. Andrew Luck Ind 26 975 551 56.5 6627 6.80 42 4.3 26 2.7 73t 59 385 80.7 317 32.5 51

The warts in Kaepernick's game -- a completion percentage below 60, for instance -- only stand to improve, and his accuracy I suspect will shine over time (recall he played almost exclusively in the shotgun in college in an offense that, at the time, was considered a novelty). He is just starting to morph into what he will become, he has the kind of size and speed and instincts that cannot be taught, and he has thrived despite having to deal with some offensive limitations around him in terms of game-breaking personnel.

So start the bidding at $20 million a season, and see where it goes. Because with a salary cap that is finally on the rise, and playing the most glamorous of positions, and with the franchise tag for quarterbacks ascending, too, Colin Kaepernick would never be short of suitors, and the 49ers are plenty smart enough to realize they could never give him the opportunity to find out exactly what the open market might bear.

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