Colin Kaepernick's free agency remains one of the hottest topics in the NFL. The Seahawks gave the 29-year-old quarterback his first interview of the year, but he left Seattle with no contract.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, though, said Kaepernick is “a starter in this league.” It was an odd comment given the way teams approach filling out their rosters, unless the Seahawks talked contract numbers and Kaepernick was out of their price range.
With that in mind, here’s a look at what Kaepernick should expect from another team in free agency.
When I look at veteran quarterbacks, I generally break them down into five different tiers based on their expected roles on their teams.
For the last few seasons, Kaepernick has been an entrenched starter with the 49ers, earning big money for being regarded as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.
Based on how Kaepernick has played the last two seasons, it’s doubtful that any NFL team views him in this tier anymore. It’s also doubtful that Kaepernick expects to earn that kind of salary in free agency.
It's just as unlikely, though, that anybody puts Kaepernick in the camp arm category, generally reserved for players earning the minimum salary with little (if anything) guaranteed. A player in this group has a chance to make the team and take the place of a higher-paid player if he has a great training camp. Offering Kaepernick this kind of contract would be insulting.
MORE: List of QBs signed before Kaepernick
Going into free agency, Kaepernick should have been seeking a competing starter contract. This tier through the years has featured players who were either journeymen starters or high-potential players who flamed out for whatever reasons in their last stops.
Contracts for these players are generally one or two years in length, with the first year of the contract being guaranteed. Most players have high-end incentives in these contracts that allow them to double their earnings if they play well, make the playoffs, make a Pro Bowl, etc.
The teams that should have been looking at Kaepernick (Bears, Jets, Texans and Browns) all went in different directions, which is why Carroll’s comment was a bit odd. Teams love to find bargains in the NFL, and Kaepernick at this point should be a bargain. When was the last time you saw a team pass on a player because he had too much talent for the role it wanted him to play?
Realistically, Kaepernick now should be firmly in the third tier. Players in that tier are guys like Matt Schaub, Chad Henne, Drew Stanton and Colt McCoy, QBs who once might have been starters but are regarded as better backups. These contracts max out at a base value under $5 million, but they also provide opportunities to add value via incentives that move them into the upper end of the tier two base salary.
Kaepernick, given his history, should be looking for a contract at the high end of this group. Nick Foles, who signed for over $5 million with the Eagles, is the high water mark, but Philadelphia has done some odd contracts for backups, and most teams will probably toss that one out. Schaub would be next at $4 million, and there’s no reason Kaepernick should not exceed that total and reach a contract of about $4.5 million per year.
The one issue with traditional contracts in this range: Their incentives are tied to playing time and basic stats more so than honors, which could pose a problem for Kaepernick.
Incentives count on the salary cap if the player met them based on last year’s stats. Because Kaepernick started 11 games and threw for 16 touchdowns in 2016, many of those incentives will count on the cap. For teams tight on the salary cap like the Ravens, Lions and Rams, that can be a deal-breaker and make Kaepernick unaffordable, even on a bargain contract.