Colin Kaepernick's New Deal: The 49ers Got It Right

While many people will criticize the monstrous deal, the dollar value that the 49ers settled on with Colin Kaepernick makes sense.

In today’s NFL, you can’t let even an average quarterback walk away.

Last off-season, Joe Flacco got a monster $120 million deal not because he’s truly a top-notch passer, but because the alternative – nothing – potentially would have put the Ravens in an undesirable situation for years to come.

Earlier in this off-season, Jay Cutler signed a megadeal with Chicago, and it was heavily scrutinized by NFL watchers. But, as I noted when I wrote about that deal – what did you want Chicago to do? Risk losing a moderately proven player in Cutler for a 35-year-old passer who was terrible at the NFL level until 224 pass attempts during his age-34 season?

Come on.

This quarterback market is a wild one, mostly because teams understand the significance and importance of having a good – not even great – passer under center. And when it was announced today that Colin Kaepernick signed a 6-year extension worth $126 million with $61 million guaranteed, I didn’t even flinch.

Kaepernick’s not yet elite (I’m sorry for using that word). He’s been the full-time starter in San Francisco for a season and a half, and while his advanced metrics look good, they don’t look top-five good. Take a look at his Net Expected Points (NEP) scores from this past season, his first full year as a starter in the league.

Passing NEPRankPassing NEP/Drop BackRankSuccess RateRankTotal NEPRank

Among the 30 quarterbacks to drop back to pass at least 300 times last year, Kaepernick ranked in the top 10 in each of the major numberFire passing categories. His Passing NEP was ninth-best among all quarterbacks, on a per drop back basis that ranked seventh, and his Total NEP – which factors in rushing – ended up in seventh as well.

The one area where he could use improvement is in the Success Rate department. Success Rate measures the number of passes that turn into positive Net Expected Point plays, and as you can see, the majority of starting quarterbacks were better than the 49ers’ passer in this category last year. Kaepernick’s rate was so bad a season ago that it was sandwiched between Matt Schaub and Chad Henne.

In essence, Success Rate shows throw-to-throw consistency, which is obviously an important aspect to a quarterback’s game. This is certainly a blow to Kaepernick’s overall profile, but in general, it’s safe to say he’s close – if he isn’t already – to being a top-10 quarterback in the league.

But Kaepernick’s deal is massive. He’s not exactly making Jay Cutler money – he’s making even more. If we assume he’s getting $21 million per year, which seems to be on the high end from all the reports, does the money spent make sense?

Well, Kaepernick’s supposed contract would make him one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. According to, he’d become one of five passers making $20 million or more per season.

And when you compare his 2013 output to some of those quarterbacks – and even the ones who are making a little less than he is – the outcome isn’t that bad at all.

Annual SalaryTotal NEPCost Per Net Expected Point
Aaron Rodgers$22.00 Million196.44$111,993.48
Matt Ryan$20.75 Million57.58$360,368.18
Joe Flacco$20.10 Million0.99$20,303,030.30
Drew Brees$20.00 Million181.78$110,023.10
Peyton Manning$19.20 Million262.88$73,037.13
Jay Cutler$18.10 Million44.52$406,558.85
Tony Romo$18.00 Million71.04$253,378.38
Colin Kaepernick$21.00 Million88.67$236,833.20

The chart above shows the top quarterbacks in terms of annual salary (keep in mind, contracts are structured much differently from player to player and guaranteed money is insanely important to understand here), and how many points those signal-callers added for their team in 2013 (Total NEP). Because both Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler didn’t play the entire season, I did a quick extrapolation of their numbers (that’s not very mathematical of me, I know) to ensure everyone was on the same 16-game playing field.

The final column in the chart, in turn, shows the cost for each point added by the individual quarterback in 2013, making the assumption that both Cutler and Kaepernick were making this money a season ago.

And as you can see, the 49ers are spending pretty similarly (in context) as the Cowboys are with Tony Romo, despite paying more money for their quarterback. And while Matt Ryan had a down year by his standards in 2013, it’s safe to assume that the value of the 49ers’ contract with Kaepernick isn’t far off from what the Falcons are giving Ryan, too.

This is by no means the end-all to a contract argument because, like I said, the contract structure is important – part of the reason people overreacted with Jay Cutler’s deal was because they ignored the fact that Chicago can cheaply get out of it after three years. But when basing this off of production, it makes sense. Kaepernick’s money is comparable to other top-paid quarterbacks in the league.

Well, except for Joe Flacco. What are you doing, Baltimore?

Clearly production is going to fluctuate, and Kaepernick's high guaranteed money total - the most we've ever seen - doesn't necessarily allow for much of a decline in play. In other words, he'll have to continue his pace over the next three or so seasons for this thing to be a worthy deal.

But I think it's reasonable for us to think that he'll keep doing what he's doing. The 49ers have decent playmakers in the passing game in Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, and they've started compiling backfield talent over the last few seasons in the draft. And, of course, the team is built on defense, playing a style that involves controlling the clock with a low pass-to-run ratio (0.90 pass-to-run ratio last year, lowest in the NFL).

Even with the 49ers being one of the run-heaviest teams in the NFL, however, Kaepernick's still getting it done when it comes to volume statistics. After all, he ranked ninth in Passing Net Expected Points in his first season as a full-time starter in the league last year. And that's because he's smart, efficient and makes plays when it matters.

Aren't those things you'd want in a quarterback?

So while we listen to pundits over the next few days speak to the astounding numbers that fill Colin Kaepernick's new contract, keep in mind that it's not abnormal. This is the new norm. This is how quarterback contracts are formulated nowadays because the market calls for it. And at least for the 49ers, they've signed a quarterback who's already proven to be a fringe top-10 passer. The Ravens and Bears can't exactly say that.