Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan just became the latest in a long list of signal-callers to secure a new contract this offseason, inking a five-year deal worth $103.5 million (Source: NFL.com). Now that Ryan's deal is done, attention can turn to speculation on which NFL quarterback will be next to lock up a healthy pay raise.
Just a few months ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick led his team past Ryan's Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. But even now that Ryan, entering his sixth year in the league, has been financially rewarded for his play, could Kaepernick soon pass Ryan on the pay scale as well?
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, Kaepernick is locked into his contract until after the 2013 season, his third in the league. Playing under a deal in accordance with his status as a second-round pick, Kaepernick's rookie contract is only worth $5.12 million over four years.
Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance in his first year as the 49ers' starting quarterback, there should be little doubt that Kap will seek an extension after this season. Frankly, it'd be hard to blame him for doing so, given the way that his value has skyrocketed since taking over for Alex Smith in November. Should Kaepernick build on his 2012 success and put together another solid campaign, the 49ers would have little choice but to pay the man, and handsomely at that.
But that also raises some question as to what exactly Kaepernick could command in terms of years and dollars. This was already a banner year for quarterback contracts before Ryan's deal was finalized, including big money for Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford and reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.
Kaepernick's salary will ultimately come down to several factors, but playoff success will be an interesting subplot in the eventual negotiations. Case in point, Rodgers and Flacco have each hoisted a Lombardi Trophy, but Ryan, Stafford and Romo have had much less success in the postseason.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Ryan, Stafford and Romo are a combined 2-8 in playoff starts, and yet Ryan and Romo were each rewarded with contracts worth over $100 million. Conversely, Kaepernick already boasts a 2-1 record and a 100.9 passer rating in postseason play, including a Super Bowl appearance in his first year at the helm.
Kaepernick can't match some of the regular-season accolades of these quarterbacks, who have Pro Bowl, Rookie of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year honors to their names, but that just adds more mystery to the situation. Even Kaepernick's style of play could play a factor in negotiations, although he has so far shown he is capable of protecting himself on the run without overwhelming injury concern.
In reality, if Kaepernick produces at a similar level this season and wins at least one more playoff game, he will be able to command a hefty salary. He probably wouldn't overtake Rodgers as the highest-paid player in the league just yet, but an extension similar to Stafford's (three years, $53 million, according to Pro Football Talk) could work well for both sides.
While rewarding Kaepernick in the short term with a significant pay raise, it would also give him the chance to re-negotiate again before the age of 30. Of course, that is a lot to pay one player, but big-time quarterbacks get big-time money. That's just the nature of the business.
The 49ers under GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh have already shown a willingness to reward players that they believe in and keep them in San Francisco for the long term. Kaepernick should be one of the next players in line, and the Niners will do their best to reach a fair and reasonable deal for both sides.
However, the NFL has never seen a quarterback quite like Colin Kaepernick, possessing both a unique skill set and level of marketability. And should the rising star lead San Francisco to a title this season, the checkbook is going to have to come out one way or another.
If that indeed proves to be the case, all bets are off on the final numbers for that deal.