The 49ers want to extend Colin Kaepernick's contract by the start of training camp, and general manager Trent Baalke said today that negotiations soon will enter a new, more specific phase.
The two sides sat down for the first time last month at the scouting combine. Baalke said "generalities" were discussed then and in conversations since, but that there will be more face-to-face meetings in coming months. "Now we're ready to present a formal proposal," he said.
Kaepernick is entering the final year of his original contract, one that will pay him just over $1 million. By comparison, backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert will earn $2 million. The going rate for franchise quarterbacks is far greater -- $18 million a year, a benchmark established by recent deals for Jay Cutler of the Bears and Tony Romo of the Cowboys.
The 49ers' challenge -- indeed, the challenge of any team that has paid top dollar for a quarterback -- will be making Kaepernick happy while still being able to field a competitive team in the future. John Harbaugh, whose Ravens team completed a big-money deal with quarterback Joe Flacco last year, conceded today that it's not an easy balance.
"It boils down to math," Harbaugh said. "Because that's a big chunk out of your bookkeeping. And it's really going to hit us this year and next year and going forward. ... So we've got to make tough decisions like (linebacker) Jameel McClain (signed by the Giants), and you've got to determine where you're going to spend your money."
If no deal is struck this summer, the 49ers still could retain Kaepernick for 2015 by giving him the franchise tag. The 49ers gave safety Dashon Goldson the franchise tag in 2012, but it's generally been something the team has avoided using in recent years. Could Baalke apply it to Kaepernick?
"I've said this before - the franchise tag is a tool we can use. It's not something we like to do," Baalke said. " ... We're going to use all resources to keep our football team together. Will we use it in this scenario? It's really too early to go into that type of discussion."
For now the team will work in earnest to get a long-term deal completed. "We're going to work extremely hard, very diligently in trying to get something done prior to training camp," he said. "That's the objective right now, as it stands."
-- Matt Barrows