The Seahawks’ darling neighbors to the south, still bitter about missing an NFC championship and probable Super Bowl triumph by a foot on the final pass of their season, are moving toward locking up the thrower of that pass, Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers apparently figure that next season, $20 million should buy 12 inches.
San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke, at the NFL’s annual meetings in Orlando Tuesday, told reporters that he is seeking to extend Kaepernick’s contract by the time training camp opens in July. He offered no specifics. But media speculation has been that Kaepernick, who has helped lead the 49ers to two NFC title games and a Super Bowl in just 29 starts, would pull between $18 million and $20 million after the expiration of his rookie contract, which will bring him about $1 million this season.
Chicago’s Jay Cutler raised the QB standard with an $18 million annual salary and $54 million guaranteed.
“We’re going to work extremely hard, very diligently in trying to get something done prior to training camp,” Baalke said. “That’s the objective right now, as it stands.”
Baalke said talks began at the scouting combine in February and will have more talks soon, although he cautioned against a quick resolution because of the deal’s complexity. Baalke’s decision to speak publicly is considered a sign that the 49ers are committing to Kaepernick as their QB of the future.
Until a deal gets done, however, speculation will continue about Kaepernick’s perceived shortcomings as a franchise QB, which were evident in the second half of the NFC title game in Seattle that the Seahawks won, 23-17.
After the 49ers gained a 17-10 lead halfway through the third quarter, Kaepernick took a delay of game penalty, followed on the next play by losing a fumble during a sack. On his next pass, he was picked off by SS Kam Chancellor.
Then came the fateful final play, an end zone pass that was deflected by CB Richard Sherman into an interception. Kaepernick’s second-half QBR of 27.0 is his worst performance in a half of any playoff game in his career.
Kaepernick’s potential deal has a couple of impacts for the arch-rival Seahawks. It will force the 49ers to spend big money in 2014 on one player, although the deal could be back-loaded to give the 49ers more near-term flexibility under the salary cap. And it sets the table for an even bigger deal for Russell Wilson, who has a year less service time and won’t get his offer to extend until a year from now. But he has a 1-0 lead over Kaepernick in Super Bowl trophies.
The 49ers would also like to strike a deal to take attention away from the tense relationship between Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, which blew up the NFL scouting combine in February when news broke that Harbaugh, in his own marvelously awkward fashion, put himself out as a candidate for the coaching vacancy in Cleveland.
Much gossip ensued about the dysfunction between the organization’s two most prominent figures, including the belief that Harbaugh’s apparently genetic need to win at everything, including last words on personnel decisions, is driving everyone bats.
The tumult has died down, but is sure to rise again because it’s a little hard to be talking about the future of the franchise with the franchise quarterback while the coach is dithering about whether to continue beyond his final contracted year this season.
As with the Seahawks, the 49ers were throwing dimes in free agency as if they were manhole covers. After releasing defensive backs Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner, they added safety Antoine Bethea from the Colts at $22.5 million over four years.
They also traded with the Dolphins for OT Jonathan Martin, he of Bullygate infamy, and with Jacksonville for Blaine Gabbert, who will back up Kaepernick for $2 million. Otherwise, they were clearing cap space as if they were building an airport runway in the jungle.
Serious assets include 11 picks in the May draft heralded as one of the deepest in many years. After getting compensatory picks this week in the NFL allotment, the Niners have a No. 1, two No. 2s, three No. 3s, a four, a five and three sevens. That amounts to six in the top 100 picks, compared to two for Seattle.
The Niners don’t have that many holes to fill, but the picks give the Niners flexibility to trade up in the first round from 30th, two spots ahead of the Seahawks.
It’s still way early to say where things stand for the autumn between the NFC West antagonists except to say that the 49ers appear ready to commit large coin to the guy who came up short, barely, in the crucible against the Seahawks.
That could be good news or bad news for the Seahawks. But it is great news for Russell Wilson, whose lifelong preparation could well separate him financially from any NFL player who has trod this mortal coil.
And hope remains undiminished that the title role in the Jim Harbaugh movie still will be played by Daffy Duck in pleated khakis.