Much has been made of Colin Kaepernick’s record-setting $61 million signing bonus with the San Francisco 49ers, but the deal may not ultimately be as lucrative as the numbers would suggest.
Kaepernick signed a six-year, $126 million contract with the 49ers on Wednesday, $61 million of which was reported to be guaranteed. The deal makedsKaepernick the most expensive quarterback in NFL history, but it was negotiated with an eye toward leaving the 49ers with the flexibility to retain the services of other key players, such as wide receiver Michael Crabtree, when their current contracts expire.
However, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio examined the details of Kaepernick’s contract and learned that just $13 million is fully guaranteed at signing. For the first five years of the deal (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and part of 2018), Kaepernick’s base salaries are guaranteed for injury only. However, on April 1 of each of those years, the base salaries become fully guaranteed, meaning that the 49ers could cut him at any time before that date without having to pay the full amount.
In essence, this means that the 49ers can chose to cut ties with Kaepernick, for poor performance or any other reason, while incurring minimal financial penalty — so long as they do so before April 1.
Furthermore, Florio notes that, from 2015 through 2020, Kaepernick’s base salary “de-escalates” by $2 million each year if he fails to hit certain benchmarks. If Kaepernick takes 80 percent of the team’s snaps and the 49ers reach the Super Bowl, or if he’s named a first-team or second-team All-Pro, the $12 million becomes guaranteed. But the 49ers will dock Kaepernick’s payout by $2 million for ever year he fails to accomplish those feats.
“As one source put it, Kaepernick can feel good about the deal because he has a lot more guaranteed money today than he had yesterday,” Florio wrote. But the same source also added that the 49ers are nevertheless “thrilled” with the contract, which allows them to control Kaepernick’s rights for seven years and to move on after any of the next six seasons, if they ultimately decide that Kaepernick is "more like the guy who struggled at times during the 2013 regular season and less like the guy who found the gas pedal in the playoffs.”
So while Kaepernick’s $61 million in guaranteed money is the league’s largest-ever total on paper, his actual earnings won’t necessarily match the hype.