Just when it looked like the Colin Kaepernick rumors had died down, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle fired them up again by reporting that Kaepernick had visited with John Elway last Thursday. Given that the report includes that the 49ers have given Kaepernick permission to seek a trade, it certainly doesn’t hurt for Elway to open up some dialogue. However, as I see it there are still several obstacles to be able to make this trade work, so I thought it might be useful to run through what’s in the way of making this trade happen.
Compensation for the 49ers
First and foremost is coming into an agreement on what the 49ers would get for parting ways with Kaepernick. Reports have had the Broncos valuing Kaepernick as a 4th rounder (repeated by Branch), with the 49ers possibly looking for a 2nd rounder. Further complicating the matters is that by virtue of winning the Super Bowl, Denver’s relevant selections are at the end of each round. Therefore the 49ers could easily counter that Denver’s slate of picks should be valued one round lower than usual.
There are several ways to break this impasse, of course. The teams could find some middle ground with combinations of picks. For example, if a compromise can be had on a mid-3rd rounder, perhaps the Broncos could send their low 3rd along with their high 5th (from Baltimore). Or, they could part with their low 2nd in exchange for one of the 49ers’ high 5th rounders. The teams could also deal 2017 picks instead, under the (hopefully faulty!) assumption that the Broncos’ draft position won’t be as low at that time.
The Broncos could also try to leverage Ryan Clady as part of any trade package. While it would be unlikely the 49ers would want Clady since they already have Joe Staley, perhaps there is a third team out there that would be able to give Denver something to be able to make a trade for Kaepernick work. The challenge with Clady, of course, is being able to find a team willing to take on his $9.5 million total salary for 2016. Such a liability may minimize what the Broncos could get for him.
The Broncos could also demand that if they are going to give up higher compensation than they value Kaepernick at, in exchange the 49ers must pay some of Kaepernick’s salary to him before the trade is commenced. While the 49ers wouldn’t be thrilled to have more dead money from Kaepernick on their books, they do lead the league in salary cap space so taking such a hit when they can afford it may not be the end of the world if they’re satisfied with the compensation they’re getting back.
Making room for Kaepernick’s current deal
If the Broncos and 49ers can agree upon a deal, absent the 49ers eating some of his 2016 guaranteed money the Broncos would need to take his contract as is before they can further alter it. The Broncos would have to make room for $14.3 million in total cap dollars in order to do so. With the Broncos having the league’s lowest cap space at only $1.65 million, other moves would have to be made in order to be allowed to acquire Kaepernick.
Obviously, disposing of Clady’s $9.5 million salary takes care of most of this, but not all. Cutting Britton Colquitt saves another $3.25 million, but that’s still not enough. Perhaps the next best step would be to restructure Chris Harris’s contract, as he’s the player most likely to be a long time Bronco. The Broncos could squeeze as much as $4.68 million out of 2016 by converting some of his base salary into a signing bonus.
CJ Anderson could be another restructure candidate, as he’s got that $5.225 million roster bonus sitting there from the Dolphins’ failed attempt to frontload his contract. About $3.9 million could be had in a restructure there.
UPDATE, 6:00 PM MT: MattR reminded us of a source that indicates that Anderson’s roster bonus should have been paid out on March 31, last Thursday. Therefore, this is no longer an option for the Broncos to take.
Altering Kaepernick’s deal for the Broncos’s desires
Finally, if the Broncos want to alter Kaepernick’s deal, they’ll have to come to an agreement that satisfies both sides. With Kaepernick’s $11.9 million salary now guaranteed, Kaepernick has the leverage in 2016. But for 2017 through 2020, the leverage is on the Broncos’ side, with no money yet to be guaranteed there, and they would also have the beginning advantage of having no prorated money to give arise to dead money.
The simplest thing to do would be a typical restructure–convert a certain portion of Kaepernick’s base salary into a signing bonus. As much as about $9.5 million could be had in 2016 savings. The danger in this, of course, is that if Kaepernick doesn’t perform well enough in 2016 to justify his $14.5 million base salary in 2017, the team is stuck with a hefty dead money total in 2017 for whatever was prorated.
The Broncos may also want to seek a pay cut from future years given that there’s little that can be done at this point with 2016. But Kaepernick would demand something else in return. Probably the most likely concession in return would be to shorten his deal so that if he overperforms whatever future pay cut he took, he could secure voiding his contract so he can try to regain value on the market.
There are likely several other contract alterations I’m not thinking of now that I won’t go into at this moment, as it could be a lengthy list. But feel free to discuss them, or anything else in the comments. As I’ve hope I’ve illustrated, there’s going to be a lot of thought need by all parties involved if this trade is going to work.