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Is Colin Kaepernick the best QB in the NFL?

Colin Kaepernick

As far as headlines go, that one is a doozy, right?

However, the San Francisco 49ers made it all possible by making fourth-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick the highest paid signal-caller in the NFL this week. This, for a guy who has made 23 professional regular season starts in his career.

It has been reported by many outlets (ESPN’s Adam Schefter, NFL’s Ian Rapoport) that the 49ers inked Kaepernick to a six-year, $110 — or $126 million, depending on who you read — contract this week with an NFL-high $61 million in guaranteed money. The deal keeps him entrenched in the Bay Area through 2020.

In the NFL, the overall value of the deal is always extremely nebulous unlike contracts in Major League Baseball or the NBA. So analyzing the guaranteed money is the best way to compare this deal with other massive quarterback contracts in the NFL.

The $61 million makes the SanFran QB the highest paid player in the NFL with Matt Ryan ($59 million), Tom Brady ($57 million), Drew Brees ($55 million), Tony Romo ($55) and Aaron Rodgers ($54 million) playing second fiddle to No. 7 in terms of guaranteed money.

Clearly, no one can intelligently argue that Colin Kaepernick is a better player than Ryan, Brady, Brees or Rodgers. So how can the 49ers justify a nine-figure investment in a player who hasn’t been a starter for two full seasons yet — on a team that was last in the NFL in pass attempts a year ago no less?

Related:Order your San Francisco 49ers 2014 preview magazine

While he is extremely young and extremely inexperienced, Kaepernick, at times, looks like the future of the position with his elite athletic ability and big-time throwing arm. He has set NFL playoff rushing records for a quarterback and has totaled 937 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground in 23 regular season starts. While he has just two career 300-yard passing games and 11 starts in which he failed to even reach 200 yards passing, Kaepernick has proven to be an efficient passer in short order.

Since becoming the starter in Week 11 two years ago, the $61-million man has been the fourth-winningest quarterback in the NFL with 17 wins and the third-rated passer in the league behind only Peyton Manning and Rodgers. He has 31 touchdown passes against just 11 interceptions in his career and has proven to be an extremely effective postseason player. Try 1,374 yards passing, 507 yards rushing and 11 total TDs in six postseason games (4-2). Still, the highest paid player in the NFL?

Former San Francisco great and broadcasting star Steve Young, for one, has been outspoken about Kaepernick’s need to learn to work through his progressions and to hang in the pocket more consistently. The former Nevada great saw his completion percentage drop from 62.4 percent in 2012 to 58.4 percent a year ago. Both numbers sit significantly behind the league’s best and highest paid like the elder Manning (68.3), Brees (68.6), Ryan (67.4) and Rodgers (66.6). In fact, Kaepernick was 31st in the NFL in completion percentage a year ago, a clear indicator that he still has plenty of work to do within the passing offense.

The good news for Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers, is that Kaepernick is aware of his shortcomings and, ideally, should continue to improve.

"Colin's hard work and dedication have played an integral role in the recent success of the 49ers organization," general manager Trent Baalke’ statement read. "His work ethic, leadership and on-field production have positively influenced our team, and we look forward to his continued growth in all areas."

Clearly, Baalke and Harbaugh are excited to have locked up their QB through 2020. (Although, Andrew Luck might have been the happiest guy on the planet when he heard about the $126 million pact this week.) Kaepernick was due just $1 million in 2014, the final year of his rookie contract. But the 49ers were willing to ante up an eye-popping amount for a deal structured in a way that would allow flexibility to negotiate with other future free agents on the team — something that was very important to Kaepernick.

It’s just an added bonus that the new deal puts the screws to their archrival in Seattle, who will need to negotiate Russell Wilson’s contract in less than two seasons.

It sounds like Kaepernick knows that the money is an extraordinary blessing but that winning a championship — something he’s come up just short of doing in two consecutive seasons — is what will define him as a quarterback. Joe Flacco was considered “overpaid” when he signed his enormous deal, but his Super Bowl ring validates his net worth.

Maybe that makes Kaepernick worth every penny. Maybe not. Only time will tell if the San Francisco 49ers made a savvy business decision or horrific professional gamble.