But will his deal be a model for the future? While Kaepernick got paid -- $114 million over six years with a $2 million escalator if he wins a Super Bowl -- he didn't get long-term job security. Though the contract was touted as including a $61 million guarantee, the 49ers can get out of it any time after the first year.
Each year, Kaepernick has to be on the roster April 1 to have the next season guaranteed. For the 49ers, it's "pay as you go." For Kaepernick, the guarantee is shallow.
Here's the concern for the player: Pay as you go is fine as long as the pay is great, but the salary cap could create problems for that player. Under a $133 million cap, a team can't keep more than eight or nine players making $6 million-plus each year. Once a team gets to that level, if it wants to add another $6 million-plus player, an existing one has to go.
This is great for teams. It gives them total control over the cap and cash. Cap managers can make short-term and long-term plans about which players they want to keep and which players might have to be sacrificed.
The cash benefits for teams also are substantial. When a deal includes a multiyear guarantee, owners have to fund the full guarantee in the first part of the contract. For example, if a player gets a $40 million guarantee and receives $10 million of it in his first season, the owner has to take $30 million out of his cash flow that season. That's not the case with the Kaepernick and Sherman deals.
The 49ers handed Kaepernick a $12,328,766 signing bonus and a $645,000 base. Sherman got a $14 million signing bonus and a $1.431 million base. Beyond that, nothing in their deals is guaranteed except if there is an injury.
The amounts of the signing bonuses partially protect the players for the first two or three years of the contracts because of the cap hit that would be incurred if they were cut. Plus, these players have security because they are among the best performers on their teams.
Most NFL teams operate under the idea that any big contract -- no matter its length -- is a three-year deal. After three years, particularly if the guarantees are for skill and injury, teams re-evaluate whether they want to keep the player.
Let's watch future long-term extensions to see if the guarantees guarantee long-term security for the players.
From the inbox
Bobby in Aqaba, Jordan
A: As much as they might have liked Manziel as their quarterback of the future, they had too many other needs to risk giving up a second- or third-round choice to move back into the first round to get him. That's the bind they put themselves in when they took Jadeveon Clowney. He was the best pure prospect in this year's draft, but Clowney became the fifth outside linebacker or edge pass-rusher taken by the team in first or second round in the past nine drafts. Using so many high picks in one area allowed holes to grow on their roster. They needed a guard. They needed a nose tackle. Of course, they needed a quarterback. A Manziel move would have been popular. It might have been the best move, but they apparently felt giving up a chance to get a potential starter in a lower round would have been too costly.
Q: In the last few years, the signings of QBs like Joe Flacco, Kaepernick, Jay Cutler and Tony Romo have inflated the value of the position. Yes they are all good -- some may argue great -- players, but are they really on par with the truly elite QBs alongside whom they are being paid? It feels to me like there may be a QB bubble that is about to burst in terms of compensation with good, but not elite, QBs taking up increasingly large portions of the salary cap and hurting their teams. Do you see any chance this trend will reverse course, or do you think it will just continue to escalate?
Charlie in Minneapolis
A: Quarterback is the most important position in football. Salaries won't go back. Sure, they would reverse if there were enough top quarterbacks to satisfy all 32 franchises, but that isn't the case. You can't sustain a winning team without a top quarterback. There is no other option. Nor should there be another option. At $20 million a year, you're talking about 15 percent of the cap. That's workable. Quarterbacks can make the rest of the roster better. I don't look at this as a bubble. It's a necessity.
Q: I would like to start off by saying that the idea of Tom Brady not being considered an elite quarterback anymore is completely laughable. Before last season, Brady lost, what was it, 85 percent of his 2012 receiving production. Show me one elite or even good quarterback who underwent that kind of turnover and didn't see a dip in QBR. Rob Gronkowski tearing his ACL during the season made it even worse, and Danny Amendola missed a significant chunk of the season. Brady has done more with less than any other QB. As good as Manning is, he has had a minimum of two truly elite pass-catching targets on his offense every single year -- most of the time three -- and still can't match Brady's rings or playoff victories. I think this notion of Brady not being elite anymore is completely laughable, and I also think he is still one of the top three QBs in the league. Trade Brady and Manning and tell me that the Patriots would have gone to the Super Bowl instead of the Broncos.
Alex in York, Nebraska
A: There is no drop-off in Brady's game. The statistical drop in the early part of last season was all because of the problems with the pass-catching corps. He was completing less than 60 percent of his passes because he was down his top five pass-catchers from 2012. When better players got back in the lineup, his numbers returned to the top level. The Pats made the most out of a combination of slot receivers, rookie receivers and journeyman tight ends. To put any downgrade on Brady is ridiculous.
Q: Are the days of the Super Bowl at the Rose Bowl over? The stadium's being renovated, and it seems like the perfect temple of football, so what are the odds it gets to host the biggest game of the year once again?
Patrick in Ypsilanti, Michigan
A: I would say those days are done. If there is going to be a Super Bowl in the Los Angeles area, it would be when a new stadium is built. That's sad. The Rose Bowl is a great venue. There is so much history with the Super Bowl in that stadium. However, I could see a team playing in the Rose Bowl until a new stadium is built.
Q: How come we do not see receivers now over the age of 30 being kept by teams? Usually 30 is a death sentence for a football player besides the QB, but look at how many receivers had multiple productive seasons after age 30. Jerry Rice had an 1,800-yard season at age 33. Terrell Owens had a 1,300-yard season and 15 TDs at age 34. Marvin Harrison had a 1,300-yard season at age 34. Jimmy Smith had a 112-catch season at age 32. Why do we not see more teams today keep their receivers around longer?
Jeff in New York
A: There will always be wide receivers playing into their 30s, but the salary cap is causing many to lose jobs. There are about two dozen wide receivers in their 30s on rosters. Once a receiver reaches 30, he ends up being used more in the slot because speed isn't as much of a factor there. Good veteran receivers tend to play until they are 34 or 35, but it's hard for those older receivers to maintain their salaries of about $6 million a year when they are no longer outside threats. This is a game of explosive plays. If 30-year-old receivers can stay explosive, they stay as starters and stay in the league. If not, they tend to be phased out.
Q: With the importance of quarterbacks in the NFL, I was wondering why a team with a need at the position would not take four or five prospects in the draft if they don't end up taking one early. The benefits of getting a starting quality QB late (a la Russell Wilson/Brady) more than make up for the decrease in depth, especially when you consider the amount of savings a late-round QB could provide to spend on free agents. Also, with the importance of the position, why don't teams fill their entire practice squads with QB prospects?
Matt in Fullerton, California
A: The odds of hitting a home run on a quarterback drafted after the first round isn't as bad as the odds of winning the lottery, but loading up on quarterbacks in the lower rounds is a bad bet. The first problem is the time it would take to prepare them. Teams have only 10 organized team activities, a minicamp and a training camp to get them ready. If you bring in two or three low-round quarterbacks, there wouldn't be enough snaps in those practices to get them all ready. If you need a quarterback, it's better to invest in one as early as necessary. Something is missing in quarterbacks taken in the lower rounds, so the odds of them succeeding aren't good. Go back to the Brady selection. He was taken in the sixth round, and there were no expectations. Drew Bledsoe was the Patriots' starter. The Seahawks took Russell Wilson in the third round, but they had given Matt Flynn a three-year, $19.5 million contract to be the starter. Wilson simply beat him out. The only way to succeed with taking a quarterback in the lower rounds is to be lucky.