By John Boyle
NFL contracts are a funny thing. When word first broke that Colin Kaepernick had agreed to a six-year, $110 million contract extension with $61 million in guaranteed money (worth “up to” $123 million over seven years, including the final year of his existing deal), it appeared the 49ers quarterback had just signed a massive deal, particularly in terms of guaranteed money.
But as is so often the case, the initial numbers can be a bit misleading when news like this breaks, and by late Wednesday, some were calling Kaepernick’s deal “club friendly.” As it turns out, only $13.073 million of that contract is fully guaranteed, as is well outlined by ProFootballTalk.com, which reported the details of the contract Wednesday night. The rest of that guaranteed money protects Kaepernick in the event of an injury that keeps him from playing, but the way the contract is structured, it’s essentially a pay-as-they go deal for the 49ers, who theoretically could walk away after the 2014 season and only take a cap hit on Kaepernick’s $12.328 million signing bonus, which for cap purposes is spread out over five years. In all likelihood, Kaepernick will see a good chuck, if not all of his deal — quarterbacks can play well into their 30s, unlike a lot of NFL players — so unless his play declines dramatically, he’s going to be very well paid for a number of years.
(And a quick aside, if you’re wondering why there can be so much discrepancy in a contract’s reported value, consider that the initial news almost always leaks from an agent, and it is in that agent’s best interest, and his client’s, to make the deal sound as lucrative as possible).
And all of this brings us back to Wilson and the Seahawks. Wilson, who was drafted a year after Kaepernick, will be eligible to renegotiate his deal after the 2014 season, and the Seahawks will be eager to get that deal done rather than let him go into the final year of his deal. Not signing Wilson a year from now could create a distraction during the 2015 season, and also allow Wilson to test free agency two years from now (though you’d better believe the Seahawks would use the franchise tag if it came to that). So if we assume Wilson and the Seahawks will get a deal done next year, and that’s a very safe bet, what kind of numbers could we be looking at in light of Kaepernick’s deal?
Well, Wilson’s agent will pretty easily be able to make a case that his client is worth more than Kaepernick having put up better numbers and an all important Super Bowl championship. Wilson’s camp can also use Kaepernick’s deal to point out that a winning quarterback deserves to be paid like one of the best, regardless of how infrequently the team throws — San Francisco and Seattle attempted the fewest passes in the NFL last year — or how much a good defense contributed to a team’s success.
The question now is just how much more Wilson stands to make? Likely Wilson’s representatives will try to use other top QB contracts such as those given to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers as the benchmark, contracts that had more “real” guaranteed money than Kaepernick’s, but guessing an exact number at this point is likely an exercise in futility. Predicting Wilson’s exact number is tough because it could be affected by other things that happen next offseason. Cam Newton is going to get a huge new deal at some point, as will Andrew Luck, and depending on how he plays in 2014, Robert Griffin III could as well. So depending on who gets paid first and where that player sets the bar, that could escalate the numbers for everyone else. We also don’t yet know how much the salary cap will increase, which will also be a factor.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggested on SportsCenter Thursday that Luck and Wilson’s contracts could both end up in the $24-$25 million range annually, which at first glance may sound outlandish, but it’s worth remembering two things before panicking about that number. For starters, the way most big extensions are build, the bulk of the Year 1 money comes in the form of a signing bonus, which as mentioned above, can be prorated for as many as five years in terms of the cap hit, so Wilson’s 2015 cap number will still be minimal. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly in the case of these big, long-term deals, the NFL’s salary cap is expected to go up significantly in upcoming years. The cap went up nearly $10 million from 2013 to 2014 to $133 million, and is expected to continue to escalate with the NFL set to renegotiate its TV contracts in 2015. So while $25 million may seem like a ton of money now, that, or even $30 million (cap numbers almost always escalate towards the end of a contract) wouldn’t be as crippling if NFL teams were operating under, say, a $170 million cap.
In the end, we know Wilson will get paid, and will almost without a doubt get more Kaepernick. How much more? Fortunately for the Seahawks, who still have the best value in football in the form of Wilson, that answer will have to wait until next offseason.