The San Francisco 49ers selected Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft out of Nevada to be their quarterback of the future, and he became that halfway through the 2012 season, when then-starter Alex Smith suffered a concussion. Kaepernick's unique combination of arm strength and accuracy helped the 49ers to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season and to within one play of a repeat appearance in 2013.
And now, with one year left on his current rookie contract -- a four-year, $5.129 million deal -- Kaepernick is looking to build on his success, and make far more than the $973,766 in base salary he'll take home this season.
The 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick began discussions on a new contract extension at the combine, and sources tell us that the three-year veteran wants a deal similar or slightly better than the ones given to Jay Cutler ($18.1 million per year, $38 million guarantee) and Tony Romo ($18 million per year, $40 million guarantee). While no one expects the 49ers to let Kaepernick go anywhere, we hear that if the 49ers don’t get in Kaepernick’s range, the quarterback would be willing to play the 2014 season at his base salary of $973,766 and postpone negotiations until next offseason instead of signing a below-market deal.
In 2013, his first full year as a starter, Kaepernick finished eighth in Football Outsiders' season-cumulative efficiency metrics and seventh in per-play value. He completed 243 passes in 416 attempts for 3,197 yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He did so with top receiver Michael Crabtree out for a great deal of the regular season, and he added 576 passing yards and three touchdowns in the 2013 playoffs. Add in his 767 rushing yards in the regular and postseason, and Kaepernick clearly presented impressive value for his current financial standing.
The question is whether he's worth a deal that will pay him with the Joe Flaccos and Aaron Rodgers of the world. And it's a legit inquiry because Kaepernick has not yet defined himself as Flacco and Rodgers have in the postseason.
49ers president Paraag Marathe, long a supporter of the idea of advanced metrics when evaluating the true value of franchise players, said at last week's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston that such methods will be used when determining what the 49ers will offer Kaepernick.
ESPN's Suzy Kolber, who was moderating the panel, referred to a page in ESPN The Magazine's Analytics Issue in which it was revealed that Kaepernick had an accuracy rating of 54.6 percent under pressure last season, the worst mark in the NFL. In addition, Kaepernick was sacked on 20.2 percent of the plays in which he was under duress.
Though stats in a vacuum aren't ideal when crunching heavy football analysis and the numbers also point to a clear downturn in the overall play in San Francisco's offensive line last season, there may be some doubt about Kaepernick's long-term value given his small sample size as a true starter.
From ESPN.com's Mike Rodak:
"I guess, I could have a different answer if he was under contract for eight more years -- versus under contract for one more year -- so I'm particularly intrigued with that article, which I have to go and read," Marathe said, tongue in cheek.
[...]"Both sides in a contract negotiation, both sides are using analytics and data to help support -- it's confirmation bias to the max, everybody's trying to find evidence that supports whatever theory or contract demand they want to make," he said. "They can cut it and slice it in a lot of ways that help you.
"Here's one that may not help them as much, so that's why I'm looking forward to reading it."
Marathe also agreed with one thing you don't need a degree in economics to discern -- the importance of the quarterback position in establishing and continuing franchise excellence.
"That's the single biggest differentiator," he said. "If you can get by with average talent, but if you have a superior quarterback, you'll see the best quarterbacks -- the Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- it doesn't matter what kind of talent they have, even if they have really bad talent around them, they're going to finish 7-9 [or] 8-8. They're never going to go 3-13."
The 49ers have one of the most solid starting lineups in the NFL on both sides of the ball, but with an aging core, and two bad drafts in a row, Kaepernick will be asked to be a force multiplier as he continues to develop. Which may, in the end, be what makes his current team agree to the numbers he has in mind.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh is all in.
"We played our last game and I went into the facility and his car was already in the lot when I got there," Harbaugh said at the scouting combine about Kaepernick's dedication to the game. "He worked out the next week, and now he's down in Florida working out again. I've never had any questions about Colin Kaepernick's work ethic and his desire to be great. He already is pretty darn good. So I don't know that there'll be dramatic increases when you're that good, but he'll find a way to get a mph faster. That's just the way he trains and the way he thinks."FARRAR: 2014 NFL Free Agency Primer: Quarterbacks and Running Backs