Upon Further Review: Impact on Dalton

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
1:15
PM ET
When it came to the massive numbers in the original reporting of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's contract extension Wednesday afternoon, it was easy to do like yours truly and caution Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton from expecting the same.

That was before the specifics of Kaepernick's contract were published late Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Upon further review ...

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Andy Dalton
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY SportsAndy Dalton set franchise records last season with 4,293 passing yards and 33 touchdowns.
Quarterbacks seeking new contracts like Dalton have reason to be optimistic about where their negotiations may be headed. While the numbers may ultimately differ, the yearly and line-item breakdown of Kaepernick's new deal could set a precedent for how superstar contracts are drawn up down the line.

Dalton, arguably regarded as a second- or third-tier league quarterback, has had enough regular-season success in his career to warrant a large cap number. But he's also had enough postseason failures to have possibly earned a front-loaded deal that over time would force him to practically earn his keep. In a general sense, that's what the 49ers did to ensure Kaepernick would consistently play at a high level over the life of his new deal.

From ProFootballTalk, here's a very broad breakdown of Kaepernick's new deal:

  • It was originally reported to be a six-year, $110 million-plus extension, with $61 million guaranteed.
  • According to PFT, only $13.1 million is guaranteed at signing. That guarantee comes from a $12.3 million signing bonus, a base salary of $645,000 and a workout bonus of $100,000.
  • PFT reports that Kaepernick's base salaries in 2014-18 are guaranteed only for injury. Each April the previous season's guarantees convert from injury only to fully guaranteed. (He gets his full 2014 guarantee on April 1, 2015.) That means that in the course of a year, the 49ers can decide if they want to keep Kaepernick or dump him. Since the April deadline comes about three weeks after the start of free agency and San Francisco can retain his rights for those three weeks, Kaepernick would have difficulty getting paid top-dollar if he ended up testing free agency.
  • PFT also reports that between 2015-20, Kaepernick's payout de-escalates by $2 million per year. Up to $12 million could go away. In order to keep his money, the quarterback would have to complete various tasks like taking San Francisco to the Super Bowl or being named an All-Pro.


Using all of that as our guide, the 49ers have reason to feel good about the deal they struck. They gave a big, yet fluff-filled deal to their franchise quarterback. The numbers alone prove the organization believes he's its superstar whether that previously was clear or not. The extension also gave the team ways to part with him at any point after the 2015 season if his play doesn't match front-office expectations. The de-escalator language is tied to on-field performance so that he has added motivation to play well. Besides, a repeat trip to the Super Bowl isn't out of the realm of possibility for Kaepernick. The fourth-year quarterback was one tipped pass from possibly going back earlier this year.

If the Bengals wanted to, they easily could draft an extension for Dalton that would mirror Kaepernick's. They could add in de-escalator clauses or make their full guarantees awards that are handed out on a year-to-year basis. They could tweak the numbers to the point where Dalton would still get on paper a deal that put him near the elite in terms of overall cap value and annual cap value, while having to work dramatically harder to earn it all. With salary caps rising sharply the next few years they could make him a well-paid player on a mostly back-loaded deal.

But will they do any of that? That's the multimillion dollar question in Cincinnati now. It's not in the Bengals' nature to twist around numbers on a long-term deal the way San Francisco just did. For salary-cap purposes, the Bengals like having a clear idea each year of what they will have to pay for player contracts. They feel it's a way of safely keeping the rest of the team in line when it comes to evaluating numbers two and three years down the line. That's why de-escalator language might not come into play in Dalton's case.

Bonus money and options are where the Bengals have done most of their contract maneuvering in the past. Much of that comes from what they feel is a desire to exercise fairness. Members of the front office have said in the past that they don't want their players to be surprised by what they are or are not making.

All of this is to say, there are reasons the Bengals may think about exploring the San Francisco method with Dalton. But there also are reasons they might end up taking a completely different approach when drawing up his new deal.

At the very least, Kaepernick's extension gave them something else worth discussing.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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