When Colin Kaepernick signed his “$126 million” contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2014, he was already giving them a remarkable amount of concessions for how successful he was at the time. Now that he’s reworked the terms of his contract, as was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter last night, his grip on his money has gotten even more precarious.
Let’s recap the old deal, which was never actually worth $126 million. Kaepernick’s signing bonus was just $12.3 million, and the first five years of his deal were guaranteed for injury only, meaning the 49ers were already able to cut him at almost any time without any real consequence. The original deal also included a series of de-escalators, which would greatly lower the value of the contract if Kaepernick didn’t achieve certain on-field accomplishments.
The new deal that the 49ers and Kaepernick worked out last night has changed two things. It wiped out the last four years of the deal and turned it into a two-year deal with a player option for the second. Kaepernick will be paid his original base salary this season, which will rise to $16.5 million in 2017 should he exercise his option to stay.
More important is what the new deal did to Kaepernick’s protection against injury. The original deal came with $61 million in injury guarantees, and would have had the 49ers on the hook for $14.5 million in 2017 if Kaepernick were unable to play because of injury. That guarantee has now been eliminated, and so the 49ers are now essentially free to cut Kaepernick whenever they want over the next two years, whether it be because he’s injured or just not good enough, without having to pay any of his base salary.
The timing of the new deal should obviously raise a few eyebrows. The 49ers held off on giving Kaepernick the starting job until they were sure they wouldn’t get stuck with him if he suffers a catastrophic injury on the field. Head coach Chip Kelly would like you to believe that Kaep letting go of his injury guarantees had nothing to do with him getting back on the field, but it’s impossible to believe Kaepernick’s contract wasn’t a part of the 49ers’ calculations when deciding who should start at quarterback. It’s also worth noting that the Niners had all the leverage. If Kaepernick didn’t do this restructure, they would have just kept him benched (they suck and have nothing to lose) and waived him following the season.
As for Kaepernick, all he’s really getting out of this new deal is the chance to opt out of the second year and hit the free-agency market this offseason. That could prove valuable if he puts together a few competent performances this season—Brock Osweiler is an inspiration to all—but things will go very wrong for him if he gets seriously injured this year. Here’s hoping he makes it to the offseason unscathed.