Is Colin Kaepernick worth $18M? He and other 2011 draft picks will strike gold soon

The cost of living is high in San Francisco. I had a friend who lived there for a year in the mid-1990s, and he and his two roommates rented out their one true apartment asset — a large closet (!) — for $200 per month to someone who didn't live there.

Things apparently haven't changed much. Amid talk of Jim Harbaugh, his lingering contract status (wanting to get paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach) and the trade that never was, now comes this nugget from the Boston Globe's Ben Volin: 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is seeking a contract worth $18 million per season, in the same neighborhood as Jay Cutler and Tony Romo.

According to Volin, Kaepernick might be willing to play the 2014 season at his base salary of $973,766 and hold off negotiations until next offseason instead of signing a below-market deal. Why? Because he has a chance to really strike it rich then.

Kaepernick is not the only one from his draft class who might have such big eyes, either. He and his classmates from the banner draft of 2011 soon will be able to renegotiate their rookie contracts, based on the rules in the CBA. And boy, could it be a series of massive payouts.

That's why fans shouldn't have overreacted to the news of the salary cap going up to $133 million this season as much as they should look to the future. The subsequent reports suggest numbers in the range of $140 million to $150 million for 2015 and 2016, and that's good because teams will be looking at potentially one of the biggest markets of talent we've ever seen.

Under the CBA, first-round picks starting in 2011 were subject to a fifth-year, non-negotiable team option. For top-10 picks, the salary number will be equal to that of the transition tag, paid out like a top-10 player at their respective position; for picks Nos. 11-32, they are paid out commensurate to the top 25 at their positions.

So, yes, teams will take the immediate bargain. But that's just kicking the can down the road for now.

Here's a look at some of the future monster contracts from that class — which includes maybe the best crop of defensive talent from a single draft class ever — and what the market might be for them:

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (1st overall pick in 2011) — All indications are that the Panthers are laying low in free agency this year and trying to be as smart and savvy with their deals in an attempt to re-sign Newton at some point in the next calendar year. The good news is that Newton says he will not hold out, but a deal might have to wait until 2015 because of the cheaper fifth-year option for first-round picks. That's the difference between him and Kaepernick, who was an early second-rounder and only received a four-year deal initially.

Von Miller, Denver Broncos (2nd overall pick) — His suspension (and injury) this season hurt his long-term value, there's no question. The Broncos should have no problems keeping him if they want Miller long term because no matter who replaces Peyton Manning on the roster, it's doubtful they will carry such an unwieldy contract number. But the team also must find space for Demaryius Thomas' deal, which is the more pressing issue now.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (4th overall) — Owner Mike Brown is notoriously penny wise, but the guess here is that even he won't be dumb enough to be pound foolish for a rare talent such as Green. There's the more, ahem, immediate matter of settling Andy Dalton's contract (at least the way the Bengals are talking), and it's likely Green must play out his option year — and perhaps even a franchise tag — to earn his long-term mega-deal. But it's coming.

Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals (5th overall) — The Cardinals have been keeping tabs on this situation carefully, as Peterson at least hasn't ruled out the holdout possibility. The team and his reps have spoken on an extension, but likely in preliminary fashion only. But agent Joel Segal is smart about these things, and he knows that his client could outprice himself for the Cardinals and their typically spendthrift ways, even with a fixed salary floor. This could be a possible split one day. Peterson could hit the market just as he's coming into his prime.

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (6th overall) — A very interesting situation given Jones' incredible ability, which only is undercut by his penchant for getting hurt. That could affect what the Falcons offer, clearly. Matt Ryan is locked up for years. Roddy White likely will sign an extension this summer to keep him a Falcon for life. Then it's onto Jones in what will be an interesting negotiation. There's little reason to think it can't get done, likely next summer. But what happens if Jones tears his ACL this year? Injuries have been a major part of his NFL story, and the Falcons can't assume it's bad luck following him around.

Aldon Smith, 49ers (7th overall) — His ongoing rehab for alcohol is a major factor in the negotiation process, and the Niners have to believe that Smith is 100 percent committed to getting well and staying well. He returned to the field, and the issue felt a bit quieted at the time. This is a thorny issue, and Kaepernick's negotiations might throw a wrench in the process, too. Too many unknowns for this situation currently. There will be no immediate contract talk on this one, but the Niners should take the option unless Smith takes a very bad turn along the way.

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans (11th overall) — Poor J.J. He might be the best defensive player in football and worth as much as any non-QB on the open market, but by being taken one spot too late his salary for 2015 drops off precipitously, and it likely means the Texans can sit on this issue an extra year on the cheap. Watt might have to be a good soldier, and GM Rick Smith admitted in Indianapolis that the team has taken no action yet to extend Watt. But there's little chance of him going anywhere when it's all said and done.

Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams (14th overall) — Viewed as the prototypical pass rusher in the league right now, Quinn has to be thinking about cashing in. But so much of what the Rams will do in the next year will depend on what happens this season with Sam Bradford and his massive contract. Beyond that, the Rams alreadyhave beaucoup bucks tied up to Chris Long, who plays the same position as Quinn, through the 2016 season. Why extend Quinn now? The Rams will gladly wait, it appears, unless Quinn and his representatives start making noise about him not being happy. He has gone from five to 10 1/2 to 19 sacks the past three seasons and is deserving of a hefty raise.

Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs (70th overall) — The Chiefs are reportedly talking to Houston about a long-term deal, at least working through the early phases of it. The value of getting something done now for the Chiefs is that Houston might not have reached his peak value yet, and they could get a friendly contract that belies his eventual worth. We'll see on this one.

Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks (153rd overall) — Gee, ya think he has outplayed his contract? What's there to say about Sherman that hasn't been said? (Or that he hasn't said himself.) Everyone knows he's the best young corner in the league, and if they don't he'll say it for them. Sherman wants to get paid, and he wants to stay in Seattle. Expect this one to get done at some point, maybe even this summer. There are other more pressing issues for the Seahawks, such as 2010 draftee Earl Thomas' deal, but nothing that can't prevent a deal after the draft. Or next summer. It's going to happen.

We haven't even mentioned the Buffalo Bills' Marcel Dareus, the Detroit Lions' Nick Fairley, the Miami Dolphins' Mike Pouncey, the Washington Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan, the New England Patriots' Nate Solder, the New Orleans Saints' Cameron Jordan, and the New York Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson as other first-round picks set to cash in eventually.

There also are non-first rounders such as Dalton, Baltimore's Torrey Smith, Dallas' DeMarco Murray, Green Bay's Randall Cobb, Tennessee's Jurrell Casey, Denver's Julius Thomas and Cleveland's Jordan Cameron who should earn hefty deals in time.

The salary-cap increase this year is nice. But will $150 million be enough to contain this wealth of talent in two years? It's going to be fascinating to watch it all play out.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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