When reports on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s contract extension first broke Wednesday, many viewed it as a logical starting point in the Carolina Panthers’ negotiations with Cam Newton on a new deal.
To that the Panthers’ front office might reply, “bring it on.”
Kaepernick’s six-year extension – reported initially to be worth up to $126 million with $61 million guaranteed – actually amounts to $13 million guaranteed at the time of signing and includes a number of “de-escalators” and per-game roster bonuses that could significantly shrink the total value of the deal, according to media reports.
“I’m sure the Carolina Panthers will go, ‘Hey, we’ll give you Kaepernick’s structure,’ ” said Joel Corry, a former NFL agent. “But (Newton’s agent) Bus Cook is not going to be too receptive to that.”
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Newton, selected No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft in which Kaepernick was picked in the second round, is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal. In April, the Panthers picked up the club option on Newton for 2015 at $14.67 million.
But with such a prohibitive salary cap number for Newton for 2015, Corry believes the Panthers will lock up their franchise quarterback with a long-term deal before the start of the league year next March.
And Corry, who writes about NFL contracts and the salary cap for CBS Sports and the National Football Post, thinks it will be Jay Cutler’s contract – more so than Kaepernick’s – that Newton’s side will bring to the table.
Cook, Newton’s Mississippi-based agent, also represents Cutler, who signed a seven-year, $126.7 million contract in January.
“(The Panthers) are going to get tired of hearing that deal,” Corry said in a phone interview Thursday.
Cutler, 31, the 11th overall pick in 2006, didn’t receive a signing bonus from the Bears. But the first three years of the deal are guaranteed for $54 million – an average of $18 million a year that Corry believes Newton will command.
“I think $18 million (a year) gets you in the game for Cam, with $50 million in guarantees,” Corry said.
Corry said Cook will be in the position of minimizing the effectiveness of Cutler in order to “pump up” Newton during the negotiations with the Panthers.
Newton, 25, is coming off his most efficient season. He passed for 3,379 yards and had career highs in touchdown passes (24), completion percentage (61.7) and passer rating (88.8) in leading the Panthers to their first playoff berth since 2008.
Newton went to his second Pro Bowl last season, which is one more appearance than Cutler has in eight seasons.
Newton has played in only one playoff game – the 23-10 loss to Kaepernick’s 49ers in the NFC divisional round in January. Cutler is 1-1 in the postseason, and was widely criticized for leaving with a sprained knee in the third quarter of the Bears’ loss to Green Bay in the 2010 NFC Championship Game.
Cutler has guaranteed base salaries of $22.5 million in 2014, $15.5 million in 2015 and $16 million in 2016. None of the money in the final four years of the contract is guaranteed.
Newton, who is recovering from surgery in March to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle, has started all 48 regular-season games since entering the league. That’s more than twice as many as Kaepernick’s 23 starts, although Kaepernick has guided the 49ers to the Super Bowl and the NFC title game the past two seasons.
As a second-round pick under the collective bargaining agreement that’s been in place since 2011, Kaepernick was not subject to the club option for 2015. But Kaepernick, who was set to make about $1 million this year, has pocketed much less than Newton and the other first-round picks from 2011.
Under the terms of his new contract, Kaepernick will receive only $13 million in guaranteed money. The remainder of the reported $61 million in guarantees is for injury only.
The 49ers can choose by April 1 in each of the next three years to cut Kaepernick or guarantee that year’s salary, according to Fox Sports’ Mike Garafolo.
Kaepernick, 26, also has annual $2 million de-escalators that can cut as much as $12 million from the contract. Kaepernick can make those de-escalators obsolete by taking 80 percent of the snaps in a season and either making it to the Super Bowl or being named first- or second-team All-Pro.
“That’s a concept you don’t see in a lot of contracts, particularly ones at the highest level,” Corry said. “Basically it’s kind of a built-in pay cut of $2 million per year, because that’s a pretty high threshold for him to not have the contract de-escalate.”
Kaepernick’s deal also include $2 million in per-game roster bonuses for each of the next six seasons, meaning Kaepernick would forfeit $125,000 for every game he misses beginning in 2015.
“It’s a double whammy to me because if he’s not hitting 80 percent (in snaps), that means he didn’t earn the full $2 million in per-game roster (bonuses) because he missed some games,” Corry said. “So he’s losing money two ways there. I’m not really a fan of this structure. I’m just assuming that the contract’s going to de-escalate.”