SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The irony in the revamped contract that quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed with the San Francisco 49ers on Wednesday afternoon is that it simultaneously helped pave the way for him to become the starter while also opening the door for an eventual exit.
Despite that strange dichotomy, it’s actually a reasonable conclusion to contract drama that technically started way back in the spring.
On Wednesday, that deal finally came to fruition. As ESPN NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Adam Caplan first reported and the 49ers later confirmed, Kaepernick signed a reworked contract that wiped out the final four years of his previous contract and allows Kaepernick an option for 2017 that comes with no guaranteed money. The Niners also converted a series of 46-man roster bonuses into guaranteed money and included a playing time bonus.
For Kaepernick and the Niners, it’s a sensible compromise.
From the 49ers’ perspective, they no longer have to worry about potential financial ramifications that would come if Kaepernick suffered a serious injury this season. Kaepernick originally had a $14.5 million guaranteed base salary for 2017 if he was unable to pass a physical on April 1, 2017. Under the new deal, Kaepernick no longer has such a guarantee, though he could still make that money if he opted to exercise his player option for next season and the Niners elected to keep him.
When coach Chip Kelly named Kaepernick the new starting quarterback on Tuesday, it seemed a new deal would soon follow. Kaepernick said he felt no pressure to get a new deal done but acknowledged that conversations were ongoing. From the outside, it was fair to wonder what Kaepernick would have to gain by agreeing to a restructured deal since Kelly had already named him the starter and he held most of the cards.
That answer became more clear on Wednesday when he agreed to the contract and the terms became available. From Kaepernick’s standpoint, he trades the potential for guaranteed money next year if he’s injured for the chance to test free agency if he wants to while also getting a little extra guaranteed money this season in the form of game-day roster bonuses. While Kelly has repeatedly said that a new contract had nothing to do with his choice of a starting quarterback, it was still clearly meaningful to the Niners’ front office to get something done with Kaepernick before he returned to playing.
Kaepernick now gets the chance to play and potentially resurrect his career. If he’s somehow able to return to the form he showed in 2012 and 2013, he would become a hot commodity able to hit the open market (Schefter and Caplan reported the Niners don’t have the option to use the franchise tag on him) and cash in on a deal that comes with perhaps even more guaranteed money than the $14.5 million injury provision. Presumably, the Niners would also want to keep him in that case.
Even if Kaepernick doesn’t return to that prior form, he could still at least do enough to prove he should get another contract somewhere, even as a backup. Had he finished this season without an opportunity to show what he can do, finding a job could have been more difficult.
Now that the deal is done, both the 49ers and Kaepernick can focus on football. The 49ers can find out if Kaepernick is as good a fit in Kelly’s offense as many assumed while still having an out after the year. Kaepernick can handle the starting job and attempt to re-establish his value while positioning himself for another deal on the open market.
It took awhile to get here, but no matter how strange the conclusion appears on the surface, it’s a logical one for both parties.