He had one of the best seasons in NFL history. He was accurate, he made his throws count, and he was efficient. He hardly made any mistakes as he led his team to the playoffs, including a 41-0 victory in the first round. He led the league in passer rating and completion percentage. His passer rating of 104.2 is the 27th-best mark ever posted, and out of the 26 ahead of him, only two were younger when they did it: Dan Marino and Drew Brees.
Now, can you imagine paying Chad Pennington $126 million dollars?
On Wednesday, that's what it looked like the San Francisco 49ers gave Colin Kaepernick on a new contract extension. It's the second-highest total dollar value ever given out, behind the $126.7M given to Jay Cutler by the Chicago Bears last year. His average annual value of $21M is the second-highest in the NFL after the $22M paid to Aaron Rodgers by the Green Bay Packers. And on top of all that, the actual guaranteed money for Kaepernick is...
Hovering less than $1M above what his backup Blaine Gabbert's guarantee is.
Detailed year-by-year over at Niners Nation, Kaepernick's contract is extremely team-friendly. Even when I asked Fucillo about it Thursday morning, he mentioned that San Francisco could really get out of it next year and not take a major cap hit. The numbers at OverTheCap.com confirm that notion, showing that Kaep's dead money figure for 2015 is $9.8M but they'd still save $7.4M.
That's not ideal in the sense that teams hate to have cap room taken away by a player no longer with them, but it is almost comically ideal compared to other contracts. It is extremely unusual to see a player sign a contract that is basically just a signing bonus with a lot of performance incentives. Kaepernick got $12 million this week for potential, which is pretty good, but if he fails to live up to that not only will his contract go away, so will his Endorsements by Dre.
The 49ers can get more and more savings as the contract goes on, eventually only having to take hits of $4.9 and $2.4 million in 2017 and 2018, and absolutely no dead money in the last two years of the deal. If Kaepernick is great, then it's really no sweat off anyone's back. He'll get well over $100 million and the team will get a great quarterback. If he's bad, then I guess at least he managed to swindle $12 million out of the team after making only 23 regular season starts. And therein lies the rub.
Rodgers guarantee is $54 million, which is only a hair less than half the total value of the contract. But at the time, he had made 78 career starts, won a Super Bowl, an MVP award, and three Pro Bowls.
Matt Ryan signed a $103.7 million contract last year as well, with $42M guaranteed, which came after 78 career starts, two Pro Bowls, and a recent trip to the NFC title game.
Only 10.3% of Kaepernick's deal is guaranteed, which is an extremely low number for any quarterback. Matt Stafford has 78% of his contract guaranteed, but he signed for "only" $53 million. Carson Palmer has 62.5% of his contract guaranteed, but that was only a two-year deal. Typically, it seems like a QB contract will range from 30-50% guaranteed, with a few outliers, but at face value even Malcolm Gladwell would scratch his head at the extreme nature of a contract that large but with only a tenth of it being guaranteed.
However, looking closer at the overall state of the NFL, it does start to make perfect sense: Colin Kaepernick is a player only beginning to prove himself, but managed to come into the league at a time where rookie contracts changed immensely and he ended up needing a new deal at the right time. We've seen where the rest of the league has set the mark for paying free agent or soon-to-be free agent quarterbacks, but Kaepernick still has a ways to go before we really know if he's legit.
Or at least, $126 million legit.
I think contracts were much more maddening only a handful of years ago, when the St. Louis Rams paid Sam Bradford $78 million, with $50 million guaranteed, before he had ever played a game. That system didn't make any sense at all. You don't take a first date to Paris.
The compromise was that first round rookies would get fully-guaranteed deals but at a much lower price. So, Cam Newton in 2011 was given a deal of four years and roughly $22 million. If he failed, that would suck for Carolina, but it wouldn't $60-million-suck. It would be a hit of $22 million over four years. Completely manageable. If he was good, then he wasn't exactly being taken advantage of either.
But then the question becomes: What do you pay a player that only has 23 starts but is definitely been well above average and happens to hit that time for a new contract?
As it turns out, the answer is $126 million with 10% guaranteed, because we haven't really seen a case like this yet. However, we have seen players play very well to begin their careers and gone in many different directions after that.
In his third NFL season, but making his first career starts, Chad Pennington completed 68.9% of his 399 pass attempts, throwing 22 touchdowns, six interceptions, and a passer rating of 104.2. He was 26-years-old, the same as Kaepernick now. Pennington had a good career, and was often plagued by injury, but he was never great. Had the Jets been put in a position to have to pay him after that one season, it could have been very detrimental.
Instead the Jets went onto win all those Super Bowls, am I r-ig-h-t, right right right?
If you measured just a player in his first three NFL seasons, with a minimum of 300 pass attempts, and sorted by passer rating, Pennington would be the second-best of all-time after Kurt Warner. Third is Nick Foles. Fourth is Russell Wilson. Fifth is Dan Marino.
Tony Romo is sixth and the coming in seventh is Kaepernick.
Of course, there are varied levels of pass attempts in that sort of sample size. Marino had 1,427 pass attempts over his first three seasons, while Warner had 857. Pennington had 424. Kaepernick has 639.
The top 30 on that list includes names from all over the board. Including the ones I've already mentioned, you'll see Palmer, Joe Montana, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. But you'll also see some of the actual greats, like Brad Johnson, Billy Volek, Ken O'Brien, Brian Griese, and Elvis Grbac.
(That's a minimum of 350 pass attempts in your first three NFL seasons, with at least a passer rating of 85.0)
Kaepernick got paid after just 639 pass attempts (and to be fair, a number of significant runs), which leaves a lot of mystery to know what's yet to come. Stafford has thrown more pass attempts than that while sitting on the john. At Wilson's current pace, he will have had thrown 1,200 pass attempts when the 2015 offseason comes around and it's his turn to get paid.
He will have made (God willing) 48 career starts, more than double Kaepernick's total. He will be a two-time Super Bowl champion.
When looking over Kaepernick's contract, note that the total years and dollar value may represent a figure close to what Wilson and his agent will be looking for from the Seahawks next season, but the guarantee probably won't come nearly as close. You could argue that Kaepernick is better if you'd like to, but there's not argument as to who will be more proven when they sign their first extension. There most likely won't be opportunities for Seattle to get out of the deal after only one, two, or three seasons. Barring something unexpected, Wilson's going to be stuck here for awhile and the team will be stuck with him.
I can handle that. We've seen enough to know this guy ain't no Chad Pennington.