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The San Francisco 49ers ended months of rampant speculation Wednesday, signing quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a six-year contract extension that could net him more than $110 million. The year-by-year salary puts Kaepernick in the among the top 10 signal callers in the league—befitting of his potential if not his track record to date—but the $61 million in guaranteed money is the most of any current contract in the NFL.

Kaepernick has achieved substantial notoriety since taking over for the much-maligned Alex Smith mid-way through the 2012 season, though not all of it has been positive. Kaepernick possesses an electrifying combination of speed, size, grit, and arm strength, but thus far these accolades have not translated into stellar on-field production. Overall, Kaepernick’s performance has mirrored the team’s success during the Jim Harbaugh Era—exciting, but as of yet ultimately lack-luster.

The 49ers experienced a great renaissance in 2011 as Harbaugh took over for the legendary Mike Singletary, who found little success in his first opportunity as an NFL head coach. Yet, despite leading his team to three consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship Game, Harbaugh has not delivered results in the one department that—above all others—he was hired to improve: the floundering 49ers offense.

The 49ers defense has been solid if not stellar for some time, and that trait has remained and perhaps even gained steam under Harbaugh’s tutelage. However, the supposed offensive guru and former All-Pro quarterback has yet to produce an offense that has ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in his first three seasons, and the passing game has consistently ranked near the bottom of the NFL. In fact, despite possessing a vastly superior set of tools and traits, Kaepernick’s overall passing numbers have been comparable to Smith’s production during his time under Harbaugh. This implies that the team’s poor passing production may be predicated more on problems with packages than with personnel.

The question is: will this continue?

Kaepernick’s new contract is clearly not a reward for accomplishments to date; rather it reflects an investment for the 49ers in the potential upside Kaepernick represents. The terms of the contract, both in length and value, imply the 49ers agree with most experts that Kaepernick represents nearly limitless untapped potential. Hopefully, this signing will make the 49ers more intent to realize return on their substantial investment.  

It is possible that the size of the contract could lead to a more protective posture, which could cause the game plan to become even more conservative. However, it is very unlikely that the 49ers would have offered such a contract to Kaepernick unless they were dedicated to the idea of him making more significant contributions. The 49ers substantially improved their receiving corps this offseason, and this new contract for Kaepernick could reflect a newly redoubled commitment to improving the passing game. If the 49ers commit to more creativity in their offensive schemes, and a more even balance between the passing and running attacks, they could become a daunting force in the NFL.

Let us hope Kaepernick’s new contract reflects a new direction in the 49ers’ offensive schemes. 

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