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Coming off the most productive season for a 49ers quarterback in more than a decade, Colin Kaepernick has some leverage this offseason to get a lucrative, long-term extension.
As a second-round draft pick in 2011, the 49ers do not have the option of picking up a fifth year of his contract at the transition number. They have that option with their first-round pick of that same draft, outside linebacker Aldon Smith.
Instead, if the 49ers do not sign Kaepernick to an extension before the opening of free agency in 2015, the organization would have to place the franchise tag on him to keep him for 2015. The franchise tag for a quarterback this year is expected to be more than $16 million. That figure could rise significantly next year.
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But the 49ers also have every reason not to pay Kaepernick the kind of deal that will push him to the top of quarterback salaries.
After all, Kaepernick is scheduled to make just $1.073 million in 2014, including a $100,000 workout bonus.
With the past 12 months, four comparable starting quarterbacks have signed deals with the lowest average-money-per-year belonging to Matthew Stafford ($17.66 million). The others are Matt Ryan ($20.75 million), Joe Flacco ($20.1 million), Jay Cutler ($18.1 million) and Tony Romo ($18 million).
So the market appears to be set.
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The Baltimore Ravens did not get a deal done with Flacco, and they paid for it. Flacco cashed in with his big-money deal after their victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
The 49ers have done a good job of identifying players they wanted to lock up early in their contracts and extending them to deals below market value. And that figures to be their strategy with Kaepernick this offseason.
But, as always, it takes two sides coming together and agreeing on a fair price.