by Ryan Meehan
It’s been almost five months since the NFL signed off for the 2013-2014 season, and a lot has happened. I’m not just talking about the retirement of professional lawn decoration and college football legend Vince Young, or the countless rookies who tested positive for every recreational substance under the sun at the combine.
One of the biggest news stories has to be the contract signed by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, which states that he can make up to $126 million over the next six years. This will make him a very rich man even if he never produces another playoff victory throughout the remainder of his career.
You know how the old argument goes: The guys are just athletes and none of them are worth that much money, and police officers and firemen should make more money and blah, blah, blah. Keep in mind these are privately owned companies and they can do whatever the hell they want to with their money. If Jerry Jones wants to build Tony Romo a golden strawberry-shaped mansion for him to live in, he can do that and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. It may not be “right”, but it’s the way the world works. Hashtag Capitalism.
But in the end these franchises have paid for it. Even when you put these guys up against the greats of the game and what they should have been making during their prime (after inflation and everything is adjusted in) the players are getting way more than they are worth nowadays. Because of this, Colin Kaepernick might just have become a reference point for money poorly spent unless he’s able to win some Super Bowls in the very near future. Additionally, there are a lot of factors in place that will make his ultimate goal seem that much more unreachable.But first before I explain why Kaepernick will feel more other pressure than the other NFL quarterbacks, let me explain why some of the other quarterbacks in the league won’t. Let start with the leader of the most recent Super Bowl champions.
Not feeling the pressure:
Russell Wilson: There’s no need to dance around this, Russell Wilson might be the luckiest guy since Trent Dilfer. His defense made it so that he hardly needs to be superb, or even above average at best. Whenever we discuss the five (or even ten) best quarterbacks in the NFL, Wilson isn’t usually in the discussion at all. He can throw two good passes in a game and go 11-5 every year without any heavy breathing.
Joe Flacco: Flacco was in a situation similar to this last season, because after he won the Super Bowl by three points to Kap’s Niners he received stupid money that most would argue he’ll never be able to justify. But there are no real expectations for him to win another one, even in the AFC which seems to somehow be getting progressively worse with every passing month.
Peyton Manning: Manning is a unique cat, because he will always be judged by his lackluster postseason record. Although he’s surrounded by some great players in Denver at the moment, the odds that he’ll be able to beat a team in today’s NFC should he even get to the big game are pretty low. And because of his neck injury (even after having the best regular season ever for a quarterback) you can easily pin any future failure on what was hardly a minor procedure.
Tom Brady: Tom Terrific has won three Super Bowls after stepping up in the wake of the Drew Bledsoe injury. He’s also been to two other Super Bowls where he lost at the last minute, and like Manning he will never be expected to run the football especially this late in his career. It would be hard to sell me on the idea that Tom Brady will ever be fighting for his job, even in New England.
Aaron Rodgers: Aaron has two things going for him at the moment: He’s on a skeleton of a team, and he plays in a small market. To the first point, the Packers had more holes in their defense than a brick of Swiss Cheese last year and that’s the only reason they didn’t run away with what was an otherwise sorry ass division. To the second, Green Bay is going to love him forever because he won a Super Bowl – and they realize it’s not all his fault they haven’t been back due to what I outlined in the first point. Pile that onto the fact that he was projected to go first in the 2005 NFL draft and fell all the way to 24th, and then won a Super Bowl half of a decade later and you can already see that he has surpassed expectations.
Drew Brees: Not even a sliver of pressure will ever fall on Drew Brees because he’s America’s Sweetheart. As soon as they won Super Bowl XLIV, the New Orleans Saints became the feel good story that everyone in the United States could get behind even if they didn’t know shit about football. Plus with the increasing popularity of the fantasy aspect of the NFL, as long as he can continue to put up great numbers he’ll be safe from any heavy criticism.
Ben Roethlisberger: For some odd reason, Roethlisberger gets the same free passes that Brees gets. Whether it’s turning the ball over to excess or beating sexual assault charges at a vacation hotspot, Roethlisberger will always get the benefit of the doubt no matter what happens. It’s really funny to me as a Giants fan that everybody bags on Eli Manning, because Ben Roethlisberger is without question the least effective two time Super Bowl winning quarterback in NFL history and will be for quite some time.
Jay Cutler: I actually heard a Bears fan the other day try and sell me on the angle that because Cutler got his big money that there will be a ton of pressure on him to win a Super Bowl. Yeah, here’s why that’s a steaming load of bullshit…First off, they aren’t winning the Super Bowl in the time it’ll take that franchise to realize they made a mistake resigning him. They’re not built to, and because of the money they spent to keep him there the amount of change in the couch cushions simply isn’t enough to put people around him who will help him win. Second, he’s obviously failed to perform in crucial situations previously. When he took himself out of that NFC Championship game, it was very likely that his career could have been over. Instead, the franchise continued to believe in him and is now stuck with a whole lot of nothing. The realization that they have a team with mediocre talent level may lead to the fans being frustrated with Cutler, but it certainly doesn’t mean he’s under a ton of pressure. Not that he would act like he cares anyway…
…So, those players are hardly feeling the pressure to succeed given their current situations. Then, there’s this weird “grey area” of guys who are somewhere between not feeling any real pressure and those who are feeling the heat. This includes quarterbacks who had breakout seasons like Nick Foles, as well as other guys such as Mark Sanchez and Michael Vick whom you couldn’t rim me into paying attention to. They are the ones who play in the games that Sportscenter will never lead with.
Now that we that out of the way. Let’s look at who is really feeling the pressure when it comes to pleasing the masses and keeping their job. These are guys who are consistently on the hot seat no matter how long they leave their furniture in the chest freezer.
Feeling the pressure:
Eli Manning: Although it seems typical for me to lead with my starting quarterback, hear me out: He’s in the biggest market playing the most popular professional sport in the country. He’s won two world championships in dramatic fashion, and will always be looked at as the dude who isn’t as good as his brother. If you don’t believe that this type of pressure is what happens to you when you’re playing lead for the New York Giants, just wait until week eleven when the Giants are 2-7 and they finally drop Tom Coughlin like a bad habit even after all he’s done for the team.
Andrew Luck: When it comes to pressure to succeed based on recent success, no one sits further North on the Kaepernick scale of high expectations than Andrew Luck. As a rookie he took a team whose coach had cancer and led them to the playoffs. And with the Houston Texans’ recent ability to set themselves on fire at any given moment past week two, the AFC South should be a cakewalk as long as Luck doesn’t end up losing a hand cleaning out his trash compactor. This all adds up to no excuses for the Luckster, and with the rest of the conference turning into liquid shit faster than the back end of a diarrhea factory the Colts are going to be expected to win for a while. He’ll likely get to the conference championships and then lose for several years at a time, then be highly scrutinized for his poor performance in clutch situations. Remind you of anybody else that’s worn that uniform over the past fifteen years?
Tony Romo: I can’t believe I’m giving this overrated ass clown the time of day or the benefit of the doubt when it comes to anything, but the reality is that Tony Romo is under a lot of pressure. He’s in a brand new stadium, and he’s a part of a franchise that demands Super Bowl victories. (Just so long as they’re in another stadium, where there is adequate seating) Jerryworld has said that he believes in Romo and because of his contract extension it would appear as if he wouldn’t be able to change his mind, but team WhiskeyDepends has lied to us about stuff like this before. Romo has to know that the dude who sits in that skybox and writes his checks could decide at any moment he’s had enough of this story and turn the page. And considering at this stage in his life Jones has the mental capacity of Al Davis in hospice care, that’s more than enough pressure to do something unheard of in Dallas – like finish 13-3.
What’s the point of all this nonsense? By now, you’re probably thinking…”This is a horrible article and all, but what does it have to do with Colin Kaepernick?” I believe all of the prior information reinforces my point that Colin faces the most intense pressure of any current NFL quarterback, and I’m willing to go Deep Six on it. By the time all of this is over you’ll see why Kaepernick is the National Football League’s version of Atlas.
1) Where Colin Kaepernick currently stands is the most pressure-inducing place for an NFL QB to be
This is what we know about Colin Kaepernick’s short NFL career so far: This past year, he led the San Francisco 49ers all the way to the NFC Championship game in the most difficult place to visit in the entire league. He came within one flag of winning that game, shocking the world, and likely winning the Super Bowl when you consider how sloppy Denver played in that game.
The previous year, he came within a flag of winning the ultimate prize. There is a school of thiking amongst sports fans that believes that the officials could have easily called a penalty on the 49ers’ final offensive play, but they didn’t want the outcome of the Super Bowl to be dependent on a flag. The 49ers were tough that year, and Kaepernick had a great season.
The point here is that really all we know about Colin Kaepernick is the success he’s had. We haven’t seen him have the bad year that RGIII had last year and have seen nothing but blue skies up until this point. So what does he have to do to earn the respect of fans, peers, and – most importantly – management? Win the Super Bowl. That’s really it for him until he can start thinking about winning it multiple times, which he can’t do until he’s won his first one.
2) The San Francisco 49ers franchise has a high level of expectations for the quarterback position
Although the league has changed a lot since the days of Joe Montana and Steve Young, this is a franchise that is no stranger to Super Bowl wins. They’ve got five under their belt, and another appearance in Super Bowl 47 which they lost at the hands of the guy this article’s about. And now that the team is better than they were ten years ago, everything appears to be in place for them to win several more. If you’re uncertain about the expectations that the Niners face on a yearly basis, just look back to the way that ESPN was acting like it was the end of the world a decade ago when Mike Singletary was showing his offense the corn in his stool. You would have thought the team was sold to some investor from India and being moved to Portland. It got so bad that at one point Steve Young got off his Mormon bandwagon and picked the Cardinals to beat San Fran in a Monday Night Matchup.
Kaepernick has everything in place to be a part of that greatness the franchise strives for, but although he has the mobility of Young he will never quite have the arm of Montana. But try explaining that to the guy at the end of the bar who’s seven beers over the legal limit at four in the afternoon wearing Joe Cool’s Notre Dame No. 3 jersey. That guy will not only tell you how Montana was the architect of four Super Bowl victories during one of the most competitive stretches in NFL history, but he’ll also use that same microbrew and chicken wing breath to explain how guys like Colin are the future and the skills that Montana possesses aren’t necessary anymore.
And he’s wrong. DEAD wrong. Coffins leaking out of the side of the hill dead wrong. I don’t give a shit how many guys have Michael Vick like reflexes minus the dogfighting, I’ll take a guy who throws for 350 yards and three touchdowns over the skinnier and more mobile quarterback any day of the week. There have been changes to the game, but the changes aren’t so significant that you’d want to start Cam Newton over John Elway.
3) The NFC West is slowly becoming the most fucking frightenting division in all of professional sports
I can remember a short while ago when we mocked the NFC West at every turn. Just a few years ago, they fielded a 7-9 division winner in Seattle that would have been mocked mercilessly to the end of the world if they hadn’t beat the defending Super Bowl champions the following week. Now, every team in that division could easily finish .500 in any given year. The 49ers are pretty much in a fight to the death with the Seahawks for the division crown every year, but the Seahawks aren’t the only team that the Niners need to worry about. The “bottom half” of the NFC West is rounded out by the Arizona Cardinals (who finished 10-6 last year and posted a very impressive showing) and the St. Louis Rams who may be in last place but hardly have a weak roster or lack the drive to succeed.
And for Kaepernick, that’s bad news. Those four games against Arizona and St. Louis every year could mean the world to San Francisco, especially when their now arch nemesis is nearly unstoppable at home. One of those middle of the road week eight matchups in Missouri could trip them up and that might be the difference between them hosting the NFC Championship game and Richard Sherman going apeshit on national television again.
I’d even be willing to add a 3b to this list, as the rest of the NFC is nothing to sneer at either. The Saints are still a quality team, the Eagles seem to be getting better every year, and although the Packers struggle with roster issues from time to time Aaron Rodgers is still a top five quarterback. Dallas can be infuriatingly irritating at times, and we forget sometimes that Carolina beat the Niners last year in San Francisco and the Panthers have a pretty easy schedule this year. And bear in mind this isn’t the World Cup – one bad seeding and a good game from Matthew Stafford and everybody’s in Cabo San Lucas drinking awful tequila and wondering why the fuck the jukebox only plays selections from “5150” and the first Montrose record.
4) The 49ers have a great roster, and having a great roster means no excuses
If Frank Gore stays healthy, Colin is beat up less and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Outside of Seattle, the San Francisco 49ers have a devastatingly talented roster. They drafted Chris Borland, Bruce Ellington, and Aaron Lynch – all solid picks. They also signed Chris Cook and Brandon Lloyd, both low risk and inexpensive options. Resigned special teams whiz Kassim Osgood who makes less than a million dollars and a steal that cost. They got rid of Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers, the latter being a great decision because Rogers essentially cost that team a Super Bowl berth. So in order to make up for that deficiency (if you’d even call it that) they signed Antione Bethea to a four year deal that pays him only a hair over five mil a year. He won’t last the whole length of that contract, but he seriously knows his shit and his knowledge of the game makes it well worth the money.
But it doesn’t stop there: The Niners are even stacked in the kicking game. Phil Dawson is what David Akers was five years ago, and what Mike Vanderjagt was becoming before he ate a dick in Dallas. (39 for 43 including the playoffs) Then you throw in that they made the Anquan Boldin move, as well as the fact that Eric Reid is the most underrated safety in all of professional football and it’s not difficult to see that the Niners have more than the tools they need to succeed.
What does this mean to Colin? It means there isn’t a whole lot of room for blame shifting. When a team performs poorly in the NFL more than any other sport, their signal caller is held accountable. So you essentially have a guy who stand to make enough money to buy the entire Caribbean at 26 years old surrounded by dudes who are every bit as skilled as him, and this is a ton of pressure to perform – even for a professional athlete. And because he is a younger guy, it also means that a lot of the more experienced players in that locker room could turn on him the second he says something dumb in the media about everyone not doing their part.
And all this is providing that Vernon Davis is not a part of the equation at all, which leads me to my next point…
5) The money means that if he isn’t performing, the other players can’t get what they may deserve in the 2015 offseason because there is no salary cap space left
Let’s be honest, the main reason why Vernon Davis acting like the crybaby he was during the beginning of his career and holding out through training camp is because there isn’t any money left to give him what he wants. This is a problem that could spread amongst the team to the other players that are free agents at the end of this season, especially if the 49ers don’t live up to expectations. This could create a chain reaction of events where if the 49ers produce less and less victories (therefore having less of a chance of making it to the Super Bowl) they will become an even less desirable place to play, leading to said roster becoming weaker with every passing year. Before you know it, they could be a sub .500 team again, referencing the facts laid out in point three.
Speaking of wide receivers that want better deals, Texans WR Andre Johnson has made it no secret that he isn’t happy in Houston and would be a PERFECT fit for a team like the 49ers. But since they don’t have the room to pay him, it’s not an option. That’s the paradox of the hundred-million dollar plus contract – you can really only pay one guy stupid money and that’s it. So essentially you can sign a guy to throw the ball, but if you give him too much money then he doesn’t have anybody to throw to. It’s a lose-lose situation based on greed, but at the same time the agent system has dictated that is the case.
6) Oh yeah, and they just built a new stadium that cost upwards of $1.3 billion dollars
The 126 million dollars Kaepernick stands to make if everything goes as planned is chump change compared to the amount of money and labor it cost to put up the building where Super Bowl 50 will be held. Nothing says “Now go out there and pay for this shit” more than a new stadium. If you don’t believe me, just ask Tony Romo if you can find him under the piles of rotten tomatoes hurled in his direction every Monday morning during the season.
If any city in the United States outside of Connecticut has money, it’s San Francisco. But that doesn’t make it any easier on the pocketbook when it comes time to write the check if you can’t get out of the first round. You can have all of the skyboxes and restaurants in the world, but if you’re not winning the steak always seems to taste like gas station nachos. The very nature of competition dictates that winning is the primary goal, so if the Niners don’t start hosting more later round games that could be a proble. Speaking of later round playoff games…
More importantly, the 49ers are in an interesting position for the 2015-2016 season because they could actually end up hosting the game and playing in it as well. That would make for a great storyline, and given the hype that it would create even with that price tag it could at least temporarily justify the money that’s already been spent. But just as easily you could end up with the same situation the Cowboys ended up when Arlington hosted Super Bowl 45. You built this billion dollar megaplex right next to a stadium that is virtually identical to it, only to finish 6-10 in a season where you got treated by the Jacksonville Jaguars at home on Halloween. If you think that’s not a metaphor for how pass/fail our society has become, you’re never going to understand why hating the Cowboys is so hilarious in the first place.
No one is likely to feel sorry for a guy who just inked a deal for over an eighth of a billion dollars when minimum wage is under nine bucks throughout most of the country. But the truth of the matter is sometimes when you’re a professional athlete, many different things can line up that will can cause roadblocks to success and in this case almost all of them are turning out to very real obstacles for Kaepernick with the excpetion of injury. And since he’s a member of this “new school” crowd which includes Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and whatever the fuck is left of Robert Griffin’s knee, somebody could very easily come in on a safety blitz and end his career with one stroke. (That was a concussion joke if you didn’t catch it, albeit a tasteless one at that…)
The biggest of all these hurdles would have to be what I outlined in point one, which indicates that it’s impossible for this scenario to play out like Kurt Warner’s. Instead of a rags-to-riches, grocery bagger-to-Super Bowl MVP story, you’ve got a guy who has almost literally nowhere to go but down. It would be like owning the second largest oil company in the world, and then all of a sudden realizing that the entire country can now run their cars off of poor taste in music.
We all say certain guys “better” win a championship when this much money is dangled in front of their snout, but I’m not sure that there’s been any time in NFL history where a player is going to have higher expectations that Colin will when he takes the field in week one. Best of luck to him, he’s going to need every bit of it.
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