Would Kaepernick to the Broncos Be Possible?

There was discussion earlier today about the possibility of Colin Kaepernick coming to the Denver Broncos.

While on the surface, it doesn’t appear to make sense given that the Broncos want to see what their younger QBs, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, could do as a potential starter, that doesn’t mean signing Kaepernick can be ruled out.

We know that last season the Broncos attempted to trade for Kaepernick but couldn’t work out logistics ranging from draft pick compensation (the Broncos offered a third-round pick but the Niners didn’t want such a pick because it came so late in the round) to contract structure (the Broncos and Kaepernick couldn’t agree to terms on a restructure) that the trade fell through.

Since that time, we know about Kaepernick and his choice to kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness for social issues, then his decision to opt out of his contract with the Niners (he received a player option he could decline after agreeing to a restructure with the Niners). Since that time, Kaepernick has found no team willing to even bring him in for a visit – that is, until the recent report that the Seahawks were interested in talking to Kaepernick’s agent.

Let me be clear on one thing: I don’t doubt that Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem plays a role in him not having a deal yet. However, that doesn’t mean that the door is closed for good with every team. For teams that could use QB help, those teams are thinking in one of two ways.

1. They don’t want the distraction they think he’ll bring given his stances on social issues (for these teams, they will never talk to Kaep).
2. They have no problem with those stances, but they prefer to pay him as a top backup, though may be all right with offering incentives based on starts and achievements (these are the teams that will talk to Kaep).

I believe John Elway fits into the latter category. I don’t think he gives a damn about Kaep kneeling for the anthem last season, but he wants players who are looking to prove they deserve big-money deals to come in on Elway’s terms first.

What would such terms be? If we are to believe that Elway would view Kaepernick as worth being paid as a top backup, but with incentives based on starts and stats, then we need to examine the QB deals that would most likely be what Kaep would be in line for. Here are a few examples.

* Brian Hoyer: The Niners gave Hoyer a two-year, $12M contract with $9.85M fully guaranteed, with incentives that could increase the deal to $18.5M over two years.

* Josh McCown: McCown got a one-year, $6M, fully guaranteed contract from the Jets, with incentives that could net McCown an additional $7M.

* Nick Foles: Foles was signed to a two-year, $11M deal by the Eagles with $7M in fully guaranteed money. I don’t have information on incentives.

It’s those type of deals that Elway is most likely going to be comfortable giving Kaepernick. Knowing that Kaepernick is several years younger than McCown, plus has more success as a starter, it would make sense that Kaep should get more money in a total contract, excluding incentives, than McCown. One could argue that Kaep should be paid more than Hoyer or Foles, but I suspect he’ll have to take a deal similar to those because he would have to go the season having to earn a starting job.

Knowing this, we need to remember how much cap space the Broncos have to work with in the coming seasons. This year, they have $12.4M in cap space and an estimated $22.1M for next year. Keep in mind that next year’s estimated cap space doesn’t include carryover at this time, plus it remains to be seen where the NFL will set the cap for next year.

Given the Broncos’ current cap situation, if they were to sign Kaepernick, it would make the most sense to give him a contract similar to what Hoyer received. However, because Kaepernick would go into the Broncos’ training camp needing to earn a roster job or the starting job, it would make sense to structure the deal so that Kaep get some, but not a lot, of fully guaranteed money upon signing, then could earn additional fully guaranteed money for making the team, winning the starting job and incentives based on number of starts or achievements earned.

The structure I would propose is this:

* A two-year deal that starts at $16M with a $2M fully guaranteed signing bonus. While not a lot of money for Kaep up front, it does promise him a small payment.

* His base salary for 2016 would be $4M, with $2M becoming fully guaranteed if he makes the roster. If he wins the starting job after training camp, the other $2M becomes fully guaranteed. If he is the backup, that $2M is not fully guaranteed but a portion would be paid to him on a per-week basis for each week he is on the 53-man roster.

* An additional $6M in incentives would be added into the contract based on the number of starts and reaching certain achievements. I would give him $250,000 for every game he starts, which would apply whether or not he wins the starting job in training camp, giving him a maximum of $4M for 16 starts. He could earn an additional $1M for being named to the Pro Bowl and another $1M for being named an All-Pro.

* The second year would be a $10M base salary. I would not make the salary an injury-only guarantee, but declare the full salary becomes fully guaranteed if Kaepernick is on the roster by the fifth day of the 2018 league year. And I would add $6M in escalators based on Kaep’s performance, which would max out his salary to $16M if he plays at a high level. (The Broncos, of course, could always talk to Kaep and his agent if he did play at a high level about an extension after 2017.)

Would the Broncos agree to such a deal? That remains to be seen, but I think such a deal would make sense from Elway’s perspective (Kaep needs to prove he should get the money he wants) and from the perspective of Kaep and his agent (if Kaep earns the starting job and keeps it throughout the season, he can earn at least $10M this year and force his salary next year as high as $18M).

As for other issues to consider if Kaep was brought on board:

* I don’t think it makes sense to trade any of the Broncos’ current QBs at this time, though it could be revisited down the road. Keep in mind that if Kaep did sign with the Broncos but struggled in training camp and the preseason, you don’t want to be put into a position in which you have either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch backed up by a rookie QB. With that said, if a young QB was to be traded, Siemian makes the most sense, given that I think it’s too soon to give up on Lynch and the Broncos shouldn’t part ways with him unless they were to sign Kaep and he proved himself to be the long-term answer.

So, for the time being, I would keep both Siemian and Lynch around, but if teams call about them, set the asking price for both QBs at no less than a first-round pick. For Lynch, I would insist on an additional pick above that. But when training camp comes along, you can re-evaluate how each QB is doing and be prepared to shop one around.

And I wouldn’t dump either Chad Kelly or Kyle Sloter if Kaep is signed. Keep in mind that Kelly has a wrist injury and might not be healthy for training camp, so you might have four QBs competing anyway and the Broncos might be prepared to place Kelly on IR when they can do so without having to slip him through waivers first.

* The Broncos are likely to free up some cap space when final training camp cuts are made. There is a chance that Donald Stephenon, Virgil Green and/or Jared Crick could be cut if younger players who makes less money than those three outperform them during the preseason.

* If Kaep did sign and prove to be the long-term guy, the Broncos could still free up some cap space through restructures or extensions of certain players. Though I would prefer not to restructure contracts, they could so for Chris Harris or Aqib Talib if both keep playing at a high level. Or better yet, they can be extended to reduce their current cap numbers. The same could hold true for Demaryius Thomas if he plays at a high level. Bradley Roby’s cap number could be reduced through an extension as well. (To the other end, if certain players don’t play well this year, they can be safely cut next year with minimal cap implication. Talib, Domata Peko and CJ Anderson would all be such players.)

So there are ways to make a Kaepernick signing work. The question, of course, is what Kaep and his agent are seeking and what Elway is willing to pay. Again, I don’t doubt the anthem issue comes into play for some teams, but I believe Elway is less concerned about that issue than he is concerned with what Kaep and his agent wants versus what he thinks Kaep is worth and how much he thinks he can help the Broncos.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.