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Colin Kaepernick trade: Who has the leverage in the potential Kaepernick deal?

Deals are all about who has the most leverage. So how much do the Broncos, 49ers, and Kaepernick each have?

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another Colin Kaepernick article. It must be the offseason. Seriously though, there are a lot of moving parts with this potential deal and a lot of angles from which to look at this.

Today, we will examine what options each party has in this deal, who has leverage, and how are they using it. Because when it comes down to it, negotiations in the NFL (and life in general, but particularly the NFL) are less about value, worth, and even performance. It all comes down to leverage.

So let's take a look at who has what leverage in this deal.

Colin Kaepernick

Currently, it may seem like Kaepernick has a lot of leverage due to the talk recently about his unwillingness to take a pay cut. While this is somewhat significant, Kaepernick doesn't hold a lot of leverage in these negotiations, he is just smartly playing what he has. Kaepernick's leverage lies in his guaranteed salary that kicked in at the beginning of April. He is going to be making $11.9m no matter what this year. This gives him negotiating power with the Broncos.

Our own Tim Lynch mentioned in an earlier post a great article by Jason Fitzgerald from Over The Cap that lays out pretty nicely what Kaepernick stands to gain from potential situations. I encourage you to check it out.

This article really shows what I am sure the Broncos know. Kaepernick would have to be sure that he would regain top form and be in line for a brand new, bigger contract, for him to even consider giving up a portion of his salary this year that he is already set to receive (you know what they say about a bird in the hand). Here is a snippet from the article laying out the potential new, Osweiler like, deal Kaepernick could get if he starts and plays well.

Kaepernick Maintains Starting Job

In this scenario Kaepernick doesn’t play as badly as he did last year but also doesn’t set the world on fire with his play. Much like the Brock Osweiler’s or Sam Bradford’s of the world you would probably consider him good enough to start but you question his high end potential. In essence this is where Kaepernick was prior to last year’s performance.

Year Current New Difference
2016 $14,300,000 $7,000,000 ($7,300,000)
2017 $16,900,000 $19,627,000 $2,727,000
2018 $17,400,000 $14,790,000 ($2,610,000)
Total $48,600,000 $41,417,000 ($7,183,000)

In this case Kaepernick is likely never going to earn what he would on his current contract. He’d be giving up $7.3 million with the chance to only earn $200,000 of that loss back. The only benefit of this contract is that 2017 and 2018 would be fully guaranteed, though if he plays well enough to keep a starting job those years are probably virtually guaranteed.

Outside of the paycut, however, Kaepernick has little leverage as he is still technically under contract with his team. He could sit out in protest, but that would lose him 400k in workout bonuses. Plus, if he ends up staying on the 49ers, it is in his best interest to start because he has potential to earn $2m more in bonuses for being on the active, gameday roster. However, that is controlled by San Francisco, and if they do not like him, he could wind up having an RG3 year of being a healthy scratch for a year on a bad team in the prime of his career.

If I were Kaepernick

I would not budge an inch from my already guaranteed salary, but at the same time, I would try my best to get the heck out of dodge and make life miserable for the 49ers until they dealt me to a team where I wanted to play.

San Francisco 49ers

As we saw above, San Francisco actually has a decent amount of leverage in how they handle Kaepernick. They used to have more leverage with Denver when there were more trade suitors, but Kaepernick's market has pretty much dried outside of Elway. The biggest piece of leverage that the 49ers have, they have already kind of blown (not surprisingly).

Remember last year when Adrian Peterson wanted out of Minnesota and demanded a trade? The Vikings refused to entertain offers and allow him to seek a trade and so Peterson had no choice but to play with them. San Francisco could have done this with Kaepernick if they were indeed serious about him playing for them (which is what their brass and Chip Kelly would have folks believe).

In fact, they could rescind their permission for him to seek trade at any point. If they are serious about Kaepernick playing for them, they would not have let him meet with John Elway last week. Therein lies the 49ers' problem. Between all the smoke and coach speak about them wanting Kaepernick, they still show that they do not want him by their actions.

The bottom line is, San Francisco is going to pay Kaepernick something this year. They could end up paying all of his $11.9m + 400k workout bonus and sit him after that so he would not gain his $2m gameday active bonuses, or they could pay something less than $11.9m AND receive a draft pick as well.

If I were the 49ers

This may sound really Broncos homerish, but I would take whatever Elway is offering. Try to squeeze out the most money and picks as you can in negotiations, but take the deal and cut bait with Kaepernick and part of his salary instead of getting stuck paying the full salary for a QB who will sit and be a distraction. You have a decent QB in Gabbert and the #7 pick in the draft which could most likely land you the 2nd best QB of the class. Unless, Kelly and Kaepernick just hit it off in camp, this is the best option I see for San Francisco.

Denver Broncos

Which takes us to our beloved Denver Broncos. The biggest weakness in leverage Denver has is the hole in our QB depth chart right now. Both Kaepernick and the 49ers know we are in the market for a QB, but Elway has done a pretty good job defending this weak spot by signing a veteran QB, and not appearing desperate or in a hurry.

Whether the lack of panic at the QB position is all a big poker face, it is serving Elway very well so far in the negotiations as Denver has seen it's leverage only increase since their hunt for Kaepernick began. Jeff Legwold wrote a great piece about this a few days ago.

The 49ers are paying Kaepernick some, or all, of that $11.9 million no matter what happens. So, the wait-and-see mode the Broncos have shifted into rests on that fact. Sure, the 49ers would like the best draft pick possible in a trade and they’d like to have to pick up as little of the $11.9 million as possible in a trade. But the fact is if they keep Kaepernick, they pay the $11.9 million. If they release Kaepernick and then he signs with the Broncos, or somebody else, the 49ers are picking up the difference between what Kaepernick’s salary is for 2016 and $11.9 million. So, in the end, $4.9 million might be the best they can do. If they come to that conclusion then a trade gets done.

If I were the Broncos

I would hold firm with whatever cap and draft pick price you have set, and make the 49ers pick up the tab for Kaepernick's "paycut". Like Legwold says above, San Francisco is stuck with paying either all or part of $11.9m no matter what, so why not give them the option to save money, pick up a draft pick, and be rid of a locker room distraction.

It is a win-win-win. Elway knows San Francisco doesn't have a lot of wiggle room here now that they've showed their hand in wanting Kaepernick gone. Barring a sudden mending of the relationship between the 49ers and Kaepernick, they are running out of options.

So what would you do if you were these 3 players in this deal? What leverage points are there that I might have missed? Let me know in the comments!