The San Francisco 49ers had some options with quarterback Colin Kaepernick after watching him suffer three game-changing turnovers in the fourth quarter of their NFC Championship Game defeat this past season. They could have made him play out his rookie contract. They could have named him their franchise player next offseason and waited to see if another team would give up a couple of first-rounders for him.
Critics would have ripped them for taking chances at the most important position, but remember, during Jim Harbaugh's tenure, this team has won a higher percentage of its games with Alex Smith starting (.759) than it has won with Kaepernick in the lineup (.724).
Instead of playing it coy, the 49ers announced Tuesday that they had gone all-in with Kaepernick, signing him to a six-year deal that is expected to make him one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the game (update: the deal is not as lucrative as initial reports suggested, making this a very sensible deal from the team's standpoint).
Kaepernick's work ethic makes this an understandable bet for the 49ers, a bet worth making, in my view. There's a very good chance the 49ers will go deep in the playoffs and possibly even win the Super Bowl next season. The price for Kaepernick was only going to go up, most likely, particularly now that San Francisco has improved its weaponry at receiver.
My own feeling from watching the 49ers is that Kaepernick's performance fell off in 2013 largely because the team ran low on offensive weapons. I also feel as though Kaepernick needs to learn when to suppress the big-play mentality that made him an appealing alternative to Smith. The big plays are great, but a little restraint in the NFC title game would have gone a long way for the 49ers.
I've made a few trips and lots of calls around the league this offseason to poll NFL decision-makers on quarterbacks. Those efforts remain in progress (and a full post examining the rankings is forthcoming), but with Kaepernick reaching his big extension Tuesday, this is a good time to look at some of the preliminary findings.
What follows is a list of QBs in line for new deals, arranged based on preliminary voting among 15 decision-makers I've consulted so far.