Amidst the National Anthem controversy, and the news that Blaine Gabbert was officially named the team’s starting quarterback, there was some question as to whether the San Francisco 49ers would release quarterback Colin Kaepernick as NFL teams trimmed their rosters and selected the final 53 players whom they’ll enter the 2016 season with.
But after Saturday’s 4:00pm deadline came and passed, Kaepernick was still on the roster, meaning he’ll likely remain with the 49ers — at least for the time being. Still, the question is: how much longer will his career in San Francisco continue?
For one, it says a lot when the 49ers hired head coach Chip Kelly, only for him to name Gabbert the starter. The prevailing sentiment was that Kelly was brought in to help develop Kaepernick, especially considering the latter could potentially be a great fit in the former’s offense.
Kaepernick spent the offseason recovering from shoulder, thumb and knee injuries, allowing Gabbert to get the majority of repetitions during organized team activities (when the team began installing Kelly’s offense), and giving Gabbert a decisive lead in the race towards the starting quarterback job.
After training camp opened, Kelly planned for Gabbert and Kaepernick to get equal repetitions with the first time offense. That did happen for the first few practices, until Kaepernick’s throwing arm began to exhibit signs of fatigue (due to the increased stress after not throwing any balls during his offseason recovery). That forced Kapernick to sit out of the 49ers joint practice sessions with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans, as well as the team’s first two preseason games.
So while Gabbert will enter the season as the team’s starter, one of two things can happen. There’s distinct possibility that Kaepernick could, at some point, take back the starting job from Gabbert. In three years as a head coach in the NFL, Kelly has never had a quarterback start all 16 games. Plus, Gabbert faces an unenviable slate of games early on in the season, facing defenses like Los Angeles, Carolina, Seattle and Arizona in four of the first five weeks. If Gabbert — or the offense as a whole — falters, Kelly could potentially turn to Kaepernick for “a shot in the arm.” The time spent as Gabbert’s backup might actually benefit Kaepernick, allowing him a little more time to fully recover from his aforementioned injuries.
Or, if the team isn’t pleased with Kaepernick’s recovery, preparation as a backup, or penchant for making national headlines, they might simply choose to keep him on the bench all year, and move on from him after the season is over. The 49ers will enter the season with three quarterbacks on their roster: Gabbert, Kaepernick, and Christian Ponder. Ponder does have 36 games of experience as a starting quarterback in the NFL, so he would present a somewhat viable option as a backup, if something were to happen to Gabbert.
Because of the fact that Kaepernick’s base salary of $14.5 million in 2017 would automatically become guaranteed if Kaepernick got injured this season, the 49ers could simply copy what the Redskins did, and deactivate Kaepernick as much as possible this season (to prevent him from getting hurt). After that, they could simply move on from Kaepernick, and saving over $14 million in cap space by doing so.
Chip Kelly has stated that Kaepernick’s future would be determined solely on the basis of his football-related potential and performance. Even after being declared a backup to Gabbert, the door isn’t quite shut yet for Kaepernick.
But, it’s clearly only a crack open, with the potential to go either way.
Photo Credit: Au Kirk