The 49ers made the right move, signing quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a six-year contract extension that could be worth as much as $126 million.
Sure, it's a lot of money. When you get game-changing talent, especially at quarterback, you keep it. When you have a prospect who's already produced so much in such a short time, you build on that. And when you've dealt with the drama the 49ers have, you get the distractions you can control out of the way.
With that said, this changes the expectations for Kaepernick.
Because things are different when you're eating up such a huge slice of the salary cap. The bar gets raised when you've got $61 million guaranteed.
We don't yet know the incentives and parameters tied to his contract. But some of these new expectations are understood even if unspoken. Let's spell them out.
Time to button up
People can sometimes become more wild when they come into big money. Well, Kaepernick just got a $20 million a year raise. But he can't really cut up now that he's set for life (as many others would).
Instead, he needs to become even more selfless, more humble. He needs to be aggressive about setting the tone, about keeping his nose clean, about being the leader.
He's already among the team's hardest workers. But it also means being the voice of his teammates, the standard-bearer for how the 49ers carry themselves, the place where the buck stops.
His new contract confirms him as the face of the franchise. He's now being paid like it. He needs to do more than avoid the negative spotlight. He has to bring some good light.
Kaepernick has been a lightning rod since he became the 49ers' starting quarterback. Much of it has been unwarranted scrutiny, media trying to grapple with his uniqueness against the tradition of his position.
Some of that won't go away. But Kaepernick can now be expected to be a frontman, even if in his own way. How he gives interviews, what he says, the things he does off the field, how he invests his time, his impact on the community -- all of that can shift the tide.
He can't just be his own guy anymore. He can't just do him and play football. He now must be accountable. All of it matters even more.
Time to become elite
Kaepernick's shortcomings as a player have been easy to explain away. He's young, not even three seasons under his belt as a starter. Plus he was cheap, and you can't be too picky when you're getting a bargain.
That's not going to fly anymore. His potential needs to be realized.
In the near future, Kaepernick should be counting the game's best as his peers. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and the like.
He should be clearly above the likes of Jay Cutler and Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford. It shouldn't be debatable. He should be that good.
That's going to require consistency. It's going to require more production and maturation as a pocket passer. He'll have to supplement his noted will and explosiveness with more of the mundane and less-glorified elements of his position.
He can't rank 31st in completion percentage (58.4), 36th in passing yards per game (199.8). Can't rank 30th in sack percentage. Even 17th in touchdown passes is too low for a guy paid like a top-five quarterback.
Kaepernick is a dynamic quarterback who can do things most others can't. But now he also has to do the things everyone else can.
Time to get over hump
The 49ers could have a Super Bowl ring, maybe two, if not for Kaepernick. No, they wouldn't be in position without him. But his inability to make the big plays at the absolute highest stakes is the reason the 49ers don't have their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
In the Super Bowl, he couldn't connect with Michael Crabtree. In the NFC Championship game, he turned it over twice and then couldn't connect with Crabtree again.
With his new deal, the expectation is that Kaepernick comes through in those moments. He's been clutch at times. He's been unstoppable at others. But he has yet to register the plays for the ages with his arm, the one that puts him in the conversation with Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Even if the 49ers don't win the Super Bowl, it can't be because he didn't come through. Not with the kind of money he's now making.