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Making sense of the Kaepernick “de-escalators”

Kaepernick

The initial, embellished report of Colin Kaepernick’s new contract indicated that the deal was worth “up to” $126 million. As we now know, $12 million of the money to be earned by Kaepernick comes from so-called de-escalators -- money in the contract that will go away if he fails to do certain things.

Based on the official NFLPA breakdown of the Kaepernick deal, here’s precisely what he must do to get the full $12 million, at $2 million per year. In 2014, he must be named an Associated Press first-team or second-team All-Pro, or he must: (1) win the NFC title game, (2) have 80-percent playing time in the regular season, and (3) have cumulative 80-percent playing time in all postseason games, not including the Super Bowl.

If Kaepernick doesn’t meet those triggers in 2014, $2 million in otherwise “guaranteed” salary permanently disappears from his 2015 compensation. At that point, he can get $10 million over the rest of the deal ($2 million per year) by, in 2015, being named an Associated Press first-team or second-team All-Pro, or: (1) winning the NFC title game; (2) having 80-percent playing time in the regular season; and (3) having 80-percent playing time in each postseason game, not including the Super Bowl.

If he doesn’t meet the 2014 or 2015 triggers, another $2 million in otherwise “guaranteed” salary disappears from his 2016 compensation. Then, Kaepernick can get $8 million over the rest of the deal (at $2 million per year) by, in 2016, being named an Associated Press first-team or second-team All-Pro, or: (1) winning the NFC title game; (2) having 80-percent playing time in the regular season; and (3) having 80-percent playing time in each postseason game, not including the Super Bowl.

The process continues, with $2 million per year going away until Kaepernick becomes a first-team or second-team AP All-Pro, or if he wins the NFC title game, takes 80 percent of the snaps in the regular-season, and takes 80-percent of the snaps in each playoff game other than the Super Bowl.

Even if Kaepernick hits the triggers in 2014, unlocking the $12 million in future salary, the 49ers still have the ability to never pay it all. Unlike an incentive, which becomes earned when the conditions are met, escalators/de-escalators affect salary that may never be paid, if the player is cut or traded.

The rest of the official NFLPA breakdown meshes with our initial report regarding the terms of the deal. While Kaepernick is getting plenty of money, it’s still a team-friendly deal that any team with a young franchise quarterback should be willing to give right now, since it provides the team with maximum flexibility at rates that soon will be well below the top of the market, and that commits the player for seven full years.