Yesterday afternoon Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and other young quarterbacks who will be up for new contracts in the next few years had reason to celebrate. Colin Kaepernick signed new six-year deal with the 49ers and the reported top line numbers of up to $126 million with a record $61 million guaranteed apparently gave the other young guns a nice comparable deal to work with when negotiation time comes around.
But the devil is always in the contract details and as those have emerged the Redskins and other organizations that will have to write the checks are breathing easier. Florio has Kaepernick’s contract broken down on Pro Football Talk and you can go there if you want to wade through all of the provisions. But the bottom line is that far less than $61 million is fully guaranteed and Kaepernick’s salary can de-escalate by $2 million annually if he doesn’t make first- or second-team All-Pro or if the 49ers don’t make the Super Bowl.
The vast majority of the guaranteed money is guaranteed for injury only. In other words, if Kaepernick is healthy but underperforming, the 49ers can release him after this year and deal with only his $12.3 million signing bonus as far as dead cap.
How does this affect Griffin and the Redskins? While it’s interesting and certainly something that both Griffin’s agent and Bruce Allen will file away for future reference, it’s too soon to tell. Griffin’s deal has two more years to run and under CBA rules a player’s rookie deal can’t be renegotiated until only one year remains so nothing can be done this year. Since Griffin was a first-round draft pick, the Redskins have a fifth-year option on him that will keep him under team control for the 2016 season at a salary of about $15 million.
It’s likely that Griffin’s camp and the Redskins would rather not have Griffin play 2016 under the option salary (since Kaepernick was a second-round pick in 2011 there was no option year; he would have been a free agent after this season). The spring of 2016 is the likely target date for a new deal for Griffin.
Will he get the big money? Again, too soon to tell if Griffin will command a salary in the $20 million per year range. If he plays more like he did as a rookie in 2012 and the team has some success in the playoffs he could well cash in with a deal bigger than Kaepernick’s and one that perhaps has more fully guaranteed money. Note that the salary cap is likely to be some $20 million higher in 2016 than it is now, according to many projections. The agents for Griffin and the other young gun QB’s are going to want compensation adjusted accordingly. But if Griffin improves only marginally from his forgettable performance of last year, his potential payday will shrink.
But make no mistake about it, unless Griffin’s play completely falls off the face of the earth the Redskins will have to do whatever it takes to keep him in burgundy and gold well beyond his option year. There simply is too much invested in him both in terms of draft picks and marketing (yes, there are off-field considerations in contracts) to let him walk after fulfilling his rookie contract.
Griffin’s contract will become a more prominent topic for discussion after the last game of the upcoming season, when he will be eligible for a renegotiation. Until then, Kaepernick’s deal is a data point to ponder.