San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has found holes in opposing defenses and the CBA.
Thanks to the collective bargaining agreement that the NFL and NFLPA negotiated in July 2011, what San Francisco is paying Kaepernick to take the team to Super Bowl XLVII is a steal. And the Seattle Seahawks are paying even less to quarterback Russell Wilson, who took the team to the divisional playoff round and set up the franchise for the next decade.
There might not be two athletes in any sport as underpaid as Kaepernick and Wilson, two NFC West quarterbacks who figure to square off for years to come. It's off-the-charts ridiculousness, their salaries. It's thievery, nearly criminal.
Sixty minutes from a world championship, Kaepernick is finishing up Year Two of a four-year, $5.12 million deal that is worth more than $3 million less in full than what Mark Sanchez will make from the New York Jets next season.
Yet Kaepernick has no out. He is locked into the deal until after the 2013 season.
Wilson's deal is even more glaringly incongruous. He signed a four-year, $2.99 million deal that is worth $6 million less in full than what Kevin Kolb is scheduled to make from Seattle's division rival Arizona Cardinals next season.
Like Kaepernick, Wilson has no way out. He is stuck with the deal until after the 2014 season, despite being added to the Pro Bowl this week and looking like he could go for years to come.
These two deals expose one of the biggest weaknesses in the CBA for the players and one of the biggest strengths for owners. Young NFL players have no choice but to suck it up for three years, even if they play at the level Kaepernick and Wilson have. Meanwhile, NFL owners get to build cheaply through the draft and own players' rights for five to six years, without the threat of arbitration that Major League Baseball has.
This is why good scouting and draft picks really are more valuable than ever before. The NFL never has seen good labor this cheap for this long.
How the league got here is easy enough to understand. During the most recent CBA negotiations, we saw an extreme backlash against the outlandish deals given to top draft picks in previous years, when a player such as former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell walked away with $32 million in guaranteed money. So much attention was given to the issue that standout rookies in the new 10-year CBA now are being punished for it. In part because of Russell, Kaepernick and Wilson are underpaid.
There is no reprieve, no chance to be paid until a player has given a team three seasons. By then, some running backs, such as an Alfred Morris, will have plenty of wear on their tires. And as everyone prepares for Super Bowl XLVII, the storylines that follow it will be different than in the past.
Young players such as Kaepernick who help lead their team to the Super Bowl cannot demand new deals the way they seemed to regularly in the past. It used to be like this: Player helps team to Super Bowl, player demands new deal, team rewards player for helping team, new deal gets done.
But that was old-school. New-school is the ultimate form of detention for standout young players. The CBA locks up their contracts for three years and throws away the key, with no chance of parole.
It would be much more equitable if certain allowances were made for extreme examples, players who glaringly outplay expectations. It would be hard to define what that level of play is, but suffice it to say that everyone would know. Any player who helps lead his team to the Super Bowl in his second year, as Kaepernick has done, or goes to the Pro Bowl in his first year, the way Wilson has, deserves to be rewarded, at least more than his existing rookie deal does.
Until the rules are adjusted, the players will continue to be wronged. And after watching Kaepernick and Wilson this season and seeing what they will earn in future seasons, one truth is self-evident: The holes in the CBA are a lot bigger than any they find in opposing defenses.
On to this week's 10 Spot:
1. More QB contract talk: There is no drama surrounding Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's contract, despite all the talk about it. The Ravens will sign him to a mega long-term deal or place their franchise tag on him, but either way, he is not leaving Baltimore.
The more interesting quarterback contract is the one belonging to San Francisco's Alex Smith, who will be the object of speculation from Kansas City to Philadelphia to Buffalo. And here's the CliffsNotes version of Smith's contract, for anyone wondering about it.
If Smith is still on the 49ers' roster April 1, his $7.5 million salary becomes fully guaranteed, per a review of the deal, no questions asked. Most around the league expect the 49ers to make their move with Smith well before then.
But there are other dates that have ramifications for Smith as well. If he is traded by the third day of the league year -- March 14 -- then the 49ers owe him nothing. If Smith is cut before the third day of the league year, the 49ers owe him a $1 million roster bonus. If Smith is cut after the third day of the league year, the 49ers owe him a $2 million roster bonus.
In a perfect world, San Francisco would find a trade partner and deal Smith before March 14. But it will not be easy to find a trade partner or work out a deal. Any team that wants Smith might be willing to wait for him to be cut, putting more pressure on the 49ers. The most logical outcome might be for San Francisco to eat the $1 million roster bonus and release Smith. And then the speculation really would begin.
But whichever way it goes, San Francisco has another big quarterback decision to make on top of the one it made to bench Smith for Kaepernick.
As much talk as Flacco's new contract will generate, the Super Bowl quarterback with the most intriguing contractual situation is Smith.
2. Emotional moment: The most emotional moment in Baltimore's victory celebration came when former Ravens linebacker and current senior adviser O.J. Brigance, battling ALS since 2007, was asked to present the Lamar Hunt Trophy to his team. Through his computer, Brigance typed with his eyes the message he wanted to express to the men of his organization: "Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens. Your resiliency has outlasted your adversity. You are the AFC Champions. You are my mighty men. With God, all things are possible." Brigance has been an inspiration to the Ravens and anyone who has seen his story. ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" aired the most memorable feature of this postseason on Brigance earlier this month. It is recommended watching as a primer on how Baltimore has been motivated and inspired and will be again in its matchup against San Francisco.
3. Support wasn't dropped: In another feature that ran on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown," former Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans recounted the events after his dropped pass during last season's AFC Championship Game in New England. What stood out to Evans, even to this day, was the way Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed comforted him.
"They didn't look at it as blaming one person or one guy," Evans recalled last week in Baltimore. "It was really a team thing for them, and I think that is what is so special about that team and that organization. They said it, and not only did they say it, but it was backed up by their actions. I knew from that moment on until now that [Lewis] would help drive that engine to get them right back here, like he said they will be."
Asked specifically how Lewis comforted him, Evans provided a snapshot of why the Ravens linebacker has been so inspirational to each of his teammates.
"When he tells his story about what he's going through, it kind of dwarfs everything that you know and can think about," said Evans, who still lives in Baltimore. "At that moment when you're feeling your lowest, he can tell you his story, his struggle, and you can't even compare. And when he tells you that was our journey, you know that he means it. You know that it's real to him, and you have a sense that he wanted and needed to come back and they were going to do it again and be in that position again. It was bigger things on the horizon, especially for him and his life."
Evans made it sound as if Lewis knew bigger things were on the horizon.
4. Explain this: Super Bowl XLVII will feature one player each from Florida State, Michigan, LSU, Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska and Texas A&M, but two from Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. Washburn University -- nicknamed the Ichabods -- has produced Ravens cornerback Cary Williams and 49ers special teams captain Michael Wilhoite. Washburn is the first non-Division I school to produce two players in the Super Bowl since South Dakota State did it in 2001 with former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri and Rams guard Adam Timmerman. Break up the Ichabods.
5. Bay Area bliss: Who has it better than the Bay Area? The 49ers are in the Super Bowl, Stanford won the Rose Bowl, the Giants won the World Series, the Oakland A's pulled a comeback to catch the Rangers for the AL West title, and the Golden State Warriors are back in contention in the NBA (no need to mention the Raiders). There aren't many cities or regions that have won a World Series and Super Bowl in the same season. The Baltimore Orioles and Colts did it in 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers did it in 1979, the New York Mets and Giants did it in 1986, the A's and 49ers did it in 1989, and the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots did it in 2004. The 49ers are trying to make it another double for what could be an unforgettable sports year for the San Francisco area. Who has it better than the Bay Area? Right now, nobody!
6. Taking away success: In an age of finesse and passing, the Ravens and 49ers are built on toughness and turnovers. The Ravens have eight takeaways this postseason, and no other playoff team has more than four. Baltimore has taken from Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Although the Ravens have been this postseason's master thieves, the 49ers have made a living of it during their two seasons under Harbaugh. Since Harbaugh arrived in San Francisco, the 49ers have forced 63 turnovers; only three teams -- the Patriots (75), Bears (75) and Giants (66) -- have forced more. Look at the names of the teams with tendencies to cause turnovers. Look at what the Ravens have done this postseason and what the 49ers have done consistently for two seasons. Turnovers propelled these two teams to New Orleans, and turnovers will lead one to a victory parade.
7. Roman overlooked: One of this postseason's great mysteries is why 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman didn't get so much as a single head-coaching interview. Not from a college. Not from an NFL team. Not from anyone. In the past three seasons, Roman's work has been stellar. Two seasons ago, while coaching at Stanford under Harbaugh, Roman helped turn Luck into one of top quarterbacks in the country. Last season, his first in San Francisco, he helped elevate the performance of Smith. This season, he helped the transition from Smith to Kaepernick go as smoothly as possible. Yet when the 49ers were on their bye week, Roman didn't get a single interview, and no team was willing to wait around to speak with him. Odd.
8. Total revenge: Reaching the final Sunday of the season is beyond gratifying for any coach. But it has to be especially so for Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was the Patriots' defensive coordinator from 2006 to '09. After New England let him go, Pees thought he had landed the Denver defensive coordinator job only to see then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels snub him in favor of Don "Wink" Martindale. Then, in Sunday's AFC Championship Game, Pees got to square off against McDaniels' offense in the stadium that was his home field for four seasons. As one NFL executive wrote in a text, "Pees receives total revenge." He did it in startling fashion, as well. The Ravens shut out the Patriots in the second half. When New England needed points, it didn't get any. Not many teams pitch second-half shutouts on the road at New England. Then again, not many defensive coordinators have one game mean as much as this one did to Pees.
9. Giant impact not felt: After New York beat San Francisco in last season's NFC Championship Game, the 49ers added a decidedly Giant flavor to this year's roster, signing free-agent wide receiver Mario Manningham and running back Brandon Jacobs. However, neither made it to Super Bowl XLVII. Manningham tore his anterior cruciate ligament in late December. Jacobs nursed his own knee injury the first two months of the season before complaining about his lack of playing time on social media sites with a series of posts that included the statement that he was "on this team rotting away." That led to San Francisco waiving him on Dec. 31. Had Manningham stayed healthy and Jacobs stayed in line, each would be playing for his second straight Super Bowl title and a third in the past six seasons. Manningham still will get a Super Bowl ring if the 49ers win, but Jacobs will miss an opportunity on a team that hasn't missed many opportunities all season.
10. A&M's Sumlin on NFL radars: Bill O'Brien, Doug Marrone, Chip Kelly and Brian Kelly generated a lot of interest from NFL teams, but the college coach who got as much interest as any was Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin. At least three NFL teams with head-coaching openings inquired about Sumlin, according to league sources. Teams were rebuffed as they checked to see whether he had any interest in talking about an NFL head-coaching job. Johnny "Football" Manziel returns to Texas A&M in the fall, and Sumlin still will be the name to watch in the NFL in the future, even with a new five-year, $17.5 million extension that averages $3.5 million per season. NFL opportunities will be there for Sumlin if he wants them. Teams will keep coming at him. And they will keep coming at him until he can't say no. In a year when the NFL convinced Chip Kelly and Marrone to turn pro, Sumlin is in the on-deck circle. He is viewed as the most desirable college head-coaching candidate in the country.