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Like Ravens with Joe Flacco, 49ers had flexibility for Kaepernick extension because of draft-and-develop strategy

San Francisco signed quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a six-year, $110 million contract extension with a record $62 million guaranteed on Wednesday, which inevitably brought up comparisons to the contract signed last March by the quarterback who bested Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII — the Ravens’ Joe Flacco.

Flacco’s contract, which was a record at the time, has been surpassed in guaranteed money ($52 million) by seven quarterbacks — Kaepernick, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New England’s Tom Brady, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Dallas’ Tony Romo, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, and Chicago’s Jay Cutler.

Only three of those quarterbacks have Super Bowl rings, and while we’re talking about astronomical sums of money for throwing a football, that’s the prism through which all of these deals have to be looked at.

Can a team win a Super Bowl with so much cap space tied up in its quarterback?

In the case of Flacco and his newly-wealthy contemporary Kaepernick, the answer is yes — at least more so than many of the other highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. First, it's important to note that Kaepernick's deal has been revealed to be surprisingly team-friendly.

But aside from that, Baltimore and San Francisco have a reputation as two of the best scouting and player-development organizations in the NFL, reputations bolstered last month with potential impact players selected by both teams in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Both value draft picks over free agent signings, and are more than happy to stockpile picks, take the best players available regardless of position, and let those players blossom on the practice field.

The Ravens could see more fruits of past drafts come good this year with third-year cornerback Asa Jackson and second-year offensive linemen Rick Wagner and Ryan Jensen tabbed for bigger roles in 2014. The 49ers, too, have built a defense and offensive line through the draft and had a draft many said could produce several contributors this year.

By developing key players through the draft instead of free agency, both teams fill out their depth charts with players on cheap rookie deals. That allows them to spend big on their franchise quarterbacks, as the Niners and Ravens have done.

Whether these quarterbacks are worth it is another discussion; one that is sadly irrelevant unless we know how teams evaluate their players. When Flacco signed his deal, he was coming off a Super Bowl win and five playoff appearances in five years, with over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in four straight seasons after his rookie campaign.

Kaepernick has just one full season — 2013 — under his belt, when he threw for 3,197 yards and 21 touchdowns and led San Francisco to the NFC title game. It’s hardly a track record worth a record guarantee, but Kaepernick is an athletic, dynamic quarterback whose development is still ongoing.

Like Flacco's extension, this could blow up in San Francisco's face. I don’t think it will, but even if it does, the teams’ deftness at acquiring talent through the draft and nurturing those players into contributors allowed the Ravens and now, San Francisco, to have the flexibility to pay their quarterbacks big.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonmeoli

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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