Colin Kaepernick 49ers black non-contact jersey

Yesterday Jim Harbaugh was in Evanston, Illinois, working out quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He attended Eastern Illinois — the same school as Tony Romo — but to me he’ll be the guy in this year’s draft who I’ll always refer to as Janeane Garofalo.

Garofalo Garoppolo is one of the 10 best quarterbacks available, a signal caller who might be selected as early as the second round in May’s draft. Everyone knows the 49ers need a capable backup to groom behind Colin Kaepernick. But with Kaepernick’s sky-high salary requirements looming, they’re undoubtedly weighing how soon they should find a suitable replacement.

According to Jason La Canfora, earlier reports of Kaepernick wanting $18 million per season are false. The minimum is $20 million, and since the guys making $18 million (or thereabouts) are Jay Cutler and Tony Romo, that doesn’t seem outlandish. La Canfora dropped a set of statistics trumpeting Kaepernick’s NFL production that was beyond comprehensive, to the point where I’m wondering whether they were supplied to him by XAM Sports.

That’s not a shot at Kaepernick’s agency; providing information to national reporters would mean they’re doing their job. As Tim Kawakami noted, Kaepernick is their biggest client.

Despite Kaepernick being a so-called “work in progress,” there are several teams that would jump at the chance to pay him Joe Flacco money. He already has a remarkable number of spectacular plays and wins against formidable foes, and personally I think we’ll see his passing ability increase as his footspeed decreases. He’s the Randall Cunningham of this generation, in other words (interesting to note: Cunningham was drafted 37th overall in the great draft of 1985, while Kaepernick went 36th in 2011).

Does the idea of locking up a Cunningham-type quarterback sound tempting? Absolutely, since Kaepernick could end up being even better. The problem is there are so few good quarterbacks out there, so paying an elite quarterback a market value salary means skimping in other areas. And based on recent history, weakening the roster as a whole makes it that much harder to win a Super Bowl.

In a post titled, “Super Bowl Rings and the Overpricing of the Quarterback,” Over the Cap provided an interesting of numbers: each Super Bowl-winning quarterback’s salary as a percentage of his team’s cap figure.

Year

Player

% Cap (based on APY)

2013

Wilson

0.55%

2012

Flacco

3.73%

2011

E. Manning

13.54%

2010

Rodgers

9.85%

2009

Brees

8.13%

2008

Roethlisberger

12.64%

2007

E. Manning

6.50%

2006

P. Manning

13.73%

2005

Roethlisberger

3.86%

2004

Brady

7.45%

2003

Brady

8.00%

2002

Johnson

7.88%

2001

Brady

0.43%

2000

Dilfer

1.61%

If the 49ers signed Kaepernick to an extension that gave him $20 million in 2014, that would equate to 15.38% of the salary cap, which was bumped up to $133 million from $123 million in 2013. Only five quarterbacks took up that much cap space in 2013: Aaron Rodgers (17.9%), Joe Flacco (16.3%), Drew Brees (16.3%) and Peyton Manning (15.6%). Of the 15 highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL, only five made the postseason last season.

The preferable course of action is to win a ring, then overpay the guy and hope he does more with less in future years. That leads to fans who are moderately content until the Super Bowl afterglow wears off, a happy (and rich) quarterback, and continuity.

Actually, scrap that. The perfect scenario would see Kaepernick taking up about 8% of the cap (the median for championship quarterbacks was 7.88% from 2000-12). That would put Kaepernick at $10.6 million in 2014, and if the cap keeps growing he’ll make something like $70 million over the next five years.

But “perfect” is almost impossible to achieve in the NFL — just ask the 2007 Patriots. And under the current rules, signing Kaepernick to an extension now makes little sense unless La Canfora’s $20 million figure is “a complete and total misnomer,” which is how he labeled the Boston Globe’s report that he’s looking for $18 million.

There are obvious reasons to negotiate with Kaepernick’s crew now, as La Canfora noted:

But the reality is the 49ers kicked off contract talks with Kaepernick’s agents at the unmistakable corner window table at Prime 147 in Indianapolis a few weeks back — a ubiquitous hot spot that is overflowing with media, agents, GMs and coaches every night during the combine — so the club very much wants the league to know Kaepernick is their guy and they want to do a deal with him now (furthermore, these negotiations also serve as a positive public relations distraction from some of the nasty infighting going on in that organization these days, centered around coach Jim Harbaugh).

But if La Canfora is correct (which isn’t a given, since he also told us to expect an extension for Tarell Brown in November), and a “bargain” deal with Kaepernick isn’t possible, why not pay him his million-plus in 2014 and see what happens? If he wins a Super Bowl, reward him with a Flacco-esque extension or franchise him, which the 49ers can do through 2017.

Tagging a quarterback costs $16.912 million in 2014.

2013 was a fascinating season that ended in the most disappointing way imaginable for the 49ers (well, beyond a total collapse and a losing record). 2014 is when the pressure ratchets up ten-fold. They’re opening up a new stadium, Harbaugh’s future is up in the air, and Kaepernick can put himself in position to max out financially with a championship run, especially if his traditional passing stats (completion percentage, touchdowns, yards) improve in the process. It makes sense for the 49ers and XAM Sports to keep the dialogue going, but unless there’s a bargain to be had it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the 49ers to wreck their salary cap anytime soon.