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Grading The Deal: Kaepernick Signs Record-Breaking Deal With 49ers

By Christopher Reina

If Russell Westbrook played in a clearly structured system that accentuated his strengths while limiting his propensity for mistakes, he would be the Colin Kaepernick of the NBA.

Westbrook is one of the most divisive players in all of sports, with people committing themselves as a detractor or a disciple. In that way, I'm a member of The Church of Kaepernick, immediately convinced that there was no controversy at all in Jim Harbaugh choosing him over Alex Smith in 2012. Kaepernick plays the game exactly how you would in your mind in the backyard as an 8-year-old, or in Madden on your couch at any age.

Unlike Westbrook, however, Kaepernick has a volume dial on his game and which is exceedingly rare for those that play on higher plane than everyone else athletically.

The San Francisco 49ers had the luxury of committing just $2.85 million of their cap space to the quarterback position in 2013, so Colin Kaepernick’s six-year, $121 million extension with $61 million guaranteed represents a total paradigm shift for the franchise.

Kaepernick ranks third in the NFL in Total QBR since becoming the 49ers’ starter in Week 11 of 2012 while ranking fourth in W-L record. The numbers tell only a fraction of his story due to the way the 49ers limit Kaepernick’s running during the regular season to reduce his risk for injury. Kaepernick will always win more actual playoff games than he will fantasy football playoff games in Weeks 14-16.

Playoff Kaepernick is how he should be judged relative to this contract, and he’s been the best player on the field during every single one of his playoff games, which includes the two wins against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

If you were starting a team from scratch, most people would probably prefer Andrew Luck, but then there is a huge mix of players vying for the No. 2 spot. Rodgers is right on the cusp of aging out of the group, leaving Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and maybe Robert Griffin III if you think he’ll return from injury with strong arguments to be made for each.

Kaepernick and Wilson are each bolstered by a dominant defense that allows them to enter games not needing to score video game numbers to win games and being completely fine with dialing it down. Kaepernick can comfortably coast to double-digit wins in the regular season playing at 75 percent of his capacity knowing that he can flip on his own video game switch in January.

Kaepernick still needs considerable improvement on his read progressions in the pocket. Even his biggest supporters acknowledge this deficiency.

Kaepernick has some of the best instincts at the position and by all accounts he has a tremendous work ethic and a superb mental aptitude. Kaepernick’s 23 starts represents a small body of work in terms of this type of financial commitment, but there’s also so much potential for him to take all of his transcendent positive moments to become a top-5 quarterback in history with improvement in the more traditional parts of the position simply by having more reps in complex situations.

Kaepernick has had the luxury of playing behind a jumbo offensive line with several Pro Bowlers, as well as a trustworthy running back in Frank Gore. They have also upgraded the wide receiving corps in each of the past two offseasons even though they lack a true No. 1. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and now Stevie Johnson don’t create a ton of separation, but they are all great route runners with good hands.

Unless you’re running an offense with a ton of precision, the model in the NFL is to let a quarterback like Kaepernick be a dual-threat playmaker and those receivers play to his strengths in aggregate.

Being a quarterback is always the most lucrative position in football, whether you’re prize is being the big man on your high school campus or making tens of millions in guaranteed money while so many of your NFL peers scramble for six-figure salaries over a three-year period on average.

There is a very narrow middle ground for quarterbacks from an annual salary perspective. Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Jay Cutler have all recently receive $54 million to $59 million in guaranteed money and none have the type of next level playoff success Kaepernick has shown repeatedly over the past years.

More interestingly, the 49ers could benefit greatly by signing Kaepernick to an extension early for two important reasons:

1. Kaepernick’s 2014 cap number is only $3 million, which allows the 49ers flexibility in other areas short-term.

2. Salaries for NFL quarterbacks is expected to balloon in the coming months and years due to salary cap increases. The cap increased by $10 million per team this season and is expected to go up again in 2015 with quarterbacks likely to take a sizable percentage of that newfound money. The 49ers are getting Kaepernick onto a long-term deal for the rest of his twenties ahead of new deals for Newton and Luck (more importantly) when the going annual rate for the best quarterbacks in the game will be $25 million to $30 million.

A deal has long been anticipated for Kaepernick and now the very uncertain, high-stress negotiation between the 49ers and Harbaugh becomes the next question.

Grade for 49ers: A

Kaepernick was bravely and wisely willing to risk playing out the balance of his rookie deal if the 49ers didn’t bring up their offer to at least $20 million per season, but getting $61 million in guaranteed money before having that hang over every single one of his scrambles is the clear prudent move.

Kaepernick came into the NFL as a second rounder in 2011 without that big, first round money and earned this new deal after winning the starting job in 2012 from Alex Smith. It’s an example of why sports is one of the best meritocracies we know.

Grade for Colin Kaepernick: A


Be The GM: Elite 8

By Christopher Reina

The mythical question of which player you would want to build an NFL franchise around is one that always triggers intriguing debate and scrutiny. The Indianapolis Colts have had this question posed to them in a microcosm twice in the last 15 years when they chose between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1998, and Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in 2012.

We will attempt to answer the question with a tournament-style contest where you get to vote one matchup at a time.

In order to create a field of 32 candidates, we selected the most franchise-player worthy player from every NFL team.

Quarterbacks are unquestionably the most valuable commodity in the NFL, but only 25 percent of the players in this poll play the position. Since you are starting a franchise from scratch in this scenario, age matters (ruling out the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees), while players with a teammate that were clearly amongst the best at their position were picked over quarterbacks that are only slightly above league average.

We last did this exercise in 2006 for the NFL and the Final Four players were Peyton Manning, Reggie Bush, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. 

The second round had fewer close matchups than we were expecting, with A.J. Green (60 percent) over Ray Rice (40 percent) being the tightest.

Now we are down to eight players; five quarterbacks, an elite pass rusher, a wide receiver and a tight end.

Elite 8

NFC Semifinal 1

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

NFC Semifinal 2

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

AFC Semifinal 1

Von Miller, Denver Broncos

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

AFC Semifinal 2

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

Sweet 16

NFC West Round 2

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (68%)

Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals (32%)

NFC South Round 2

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (76%)

Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (24%)

NFC North Round 2

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (72%)

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (28%)

NFC East Round 2

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (72%)

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants

AFC West Round 2

Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers (14%)

Von Miller, Denver Broncos (86%)

AFC South Round 2

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans (33%)

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (67%)

AFC North Round 2

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (40%)

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (60%)

AFC East Round 2

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (67%)

Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (33%)

------

Round of 32 Results

NFC West 1

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (57%)

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (43%)

NFC West 2

Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals (78%)

Chris Long, St. Louis Rams (22%)

NFC South 1

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (27%)

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (63%)

NFC South 2

Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (54%)

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (46%)

NFC North 1

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (94%)

Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears (6%)

NFC North 2

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (70%)

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (30%)

NFC East 1

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (85%)

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (15%)

NFC East 2

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (57%)

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (43%)

AFC West 1

Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders (45%)

Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers (55%)

AFC West 2

Von Miller, Denver Broncos (75%)

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (25%)

AFC South 1

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans (95%)

Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans (5%)

AFC South 2

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (94%)

Paul Posulszny, Jacksonville Jaguars (6%)

AFC North 1

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (38%)

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (62%)

AFC North 2

Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns (35%)

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (65%)

AFC East 1

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (63%)

Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (37%)

AFC East 2

Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins (24%)

Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (76%)


Be The GM: Round Of 16

By Christopher Reina

The mythical question of which player you would want to build an NFL franchise around is one that always triggers intriguing debate and scrutiny. The Indianapolis Colts have had this question posed to them in a microcosm twice in the last 15 years when they chose between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in 1998, and Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in 2012.

We will attempt to answer the question with a tournament-style contest where you get to vote one matchup at a time.

In order to create a field of 32 candidates, we selected the most franchise-player worthy player from every NFL team.

Quarterbacks are unquestionably the most valuable commodity in the NFL, but only 25 percent of the players in this poll play the position. Since you are starting a franchise from scratch in this scenario, age matters (ruling out the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees), while players with a teammate that were clearly amongst the best at their position were picked over quarterbacks that are only slightly above league average.

We last did this exercise in 2006 for the NFL and the Final Four players were Peyton Manning, Reggie Bush, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. 

The first round produced several uneven matchups such as Aaron Rodgers against Brandon Marshall and Andrew Luck versus Paul Posulszny, but the 16 that advanced are all deserving and should create tighter results.

Sweet 16

NFC West Round 2

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (68%)

Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals (32%)

NFC South Round 2

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (76%)

Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (24%)

NFC North Round 2

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (72%)

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (28%)

NFC East Round 2

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (72%)

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants

AFC West Round 2

Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers (14%)

Von Miller, Denver Broncos (86%)

AFC South Round 2

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans (33%)

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (67%)

AFC North Round 2

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (40%)

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (60%)

AFC East Round 2

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (67%)

Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (33%)

------

Round of 32 Results

NFC West 1

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (57%)

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (43%)

NFC West 2

Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals (78%)

Chris Long, St. Louis Rams (22%)

NFC South 1

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (27%)

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (63%)

NFC South 2

Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (54%)

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (46%)

NFC North 1

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (94%)

Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears (6%)

NFC North 2

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (70%)

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (30%)

NFC East 1

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (85%)

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (15%)

NFC East 2

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (57%)

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (43%)

AFC West 1

Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders (45%)

Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers (55%)

AFC West 2

Von Miller, Denver Broncos (75%)

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (25%)

AFC South 1

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans (95%)

Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans (5%)

AFC South 2

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (94%)

Paul Posulszny, Jacksonville Jaguars (6%)

AFC North 1

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (38%)

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (62%)

AFC North 2

Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns (35%)

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (65%)

AFC East 1

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (63%)

Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (37%)

AFC East 2

Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins (24%)

Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (76%)



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