During his final press conference for the 2013 season, Jim Harbaugh was asked if he thought that the 49ers window to a title is still open and the answer was typical Harbaugh, “Back today competing for that very thing. So, no, I don’t understand windows.”
Harbaugh is paid to coach and win football games, not understand windows, so let me help him out a bit. The 49ers window is about to start closing and it comes down to one thing, Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and everything points to the 49ers giving their young signal caller a new deal. Reports from the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., have the top three men in the organization, Jed York, Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh all stating that getting a new deal done for Kaepernick prior to the start of training camp would be their offseason priority.
If the 49ers give Kaepernick the type of contract he is seeking, between $18 to $20 million annually, the clock on the window will start ticking like that of Mona Lisa Vito in “My Cousin Vinny.”
A big reason for the 49ers’ success over the last three years has been the result of depth. The 49ers have had one of the deepest rosters in the NFL. Once they commit that type of money to Kaepernick, they will be forced to cut in other areas. This will force the team to rely on younger, less expensive and less experienced players and force Kaepernick to shoulder a larger role in the team’s performance.
Many will point to the continued success of the Patriots, Broncos, Saints or Packers in recent years, although they have highly paid quarterbacks. And those are all valid examples. Just as the Bears, Cowboys, Jets and Lions are good examples of teams that have had highly paid quarterbacks and failed to win.
The difference is that guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers didn’t get paid until they had already proven they could win the big one. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about, right?
In addition to winning, the Brady’s and Mannings of the NFL world have proven that they can carry the team and make the players around them better. This season, Brady led the Patriots to the Championship game despite losing Rob Gronkowski to injury during the year and Wes Welker to free agency. Meanwhile, three of Kaepernick’s worst performances in 2013 came when Vernon Davis was lost for some or all of the game in losses to Seattle, Indianapolis and Carolina.
Let’s forget Brady for a minute and look at an interesting stat that hits much closer to home. In 2011, Kyle Williams and Alex Smith combined for a quarterback rating of 143.3. In 2013, Williams and Colin Kaepernick combined for a quarterback rating of 25.7.
Those in support of a new deal for Kaepernick will point to his outstanding postseason record. They will go on about how he has a 4-2 record and led the 49ers to four road wins. All of this in his first year and a half as the starting quarterback.
That looks like quite an accomplishment until you realize that Mark Sanchez did the same thing with the New York Jets.
Back in 2009 and 2010, Sanchez’s first two seasons in New York, the Jets featured a defense that finished first and sixth in points against. The result was back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship game and a nice big deal for Sanchez. In 2011, after a number of changes on both offense and defense due in part to salary cap constraints, the Jets scoring defense fell to 20th. Sanchez proved that he was unable to shoulder the load for the team, and the end result was missing the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
Much like Sanchez, Kaepernick has been backed by a tremendous defense. The 2012 and 2013, 49ers have featured defenses finished the season second and third in points against. To this point, Kaepernick has not been forced to shoulder the load.
The professionals who run the 49ers franchise know what they are doing.
Tick, tick, tick.
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