The 1-4 2016 San Francisco 49ers are drowning and Colin Kaepernick just threw the franchise a life raft.
Ian Rapoport is reporting the 49ers are chopping off the three remaining years of his contract. Essentially, it voids a unique injury clause that would’ve paid him $14.5 million in 2017 should he be injured in 2016. Kaepernick will have the option to become a free agent after the season if he wishes, according to the report.
The fact that it got to this, that the 49ers walked into a football season with no realistic person to operate an offense at quarterback, is a painful new low for a once-proud franchise.
The country got to see firsthand how bad the Blaine Gabbert experiment is going on Thursday Night Football. Even with Carlos Hyde doing his thing, Chip Kelly has the worst offense in the NFL. This won’t be a quick fix. A handful of talented players doesn’t hide that this 49ers roster is in shambles.
Let’s make this clear from the top: Colin Kaepernick did not have to do this. He gave up leverage to get back onto the football field, which shows his growth as a person. Kap’s struggles from 2014 and 2015 are documented, but so is his contentious relationship with management. He could’ve let GM Trent Baalke squirm all season long. He could’ve forced Kelly to play Christian Ponder, a move that would’ve rocked the locker room and showed the 49ers value money more than winning football games. Instead, Kaepernick’s betting on himself in an audition season to relaunch his career in 2017.
When did it get this bad for the 49ers? When did they actually become comparable to the Cleveland Browns?
The wheels started to completely fall off when owner Jed York gave the keys of the franchise to Baalke after the 2014 season. Without Jim Harbaugh, Baalke’s been exposed as a fraud. His football philosophy is backwards and his talent evaluation has damaged the franchise. Can you imagine where the 49ers would be sitting had York swallowed his pride and kept Harbaugh instead?
Although it’s embarrassing to be in this position, Kap’s contract re-negotiation is both a win for the 49ers and for him. Each week at his press conferences, Kelly had to awkwardly rehash that the quarterback was not fully back to his 2013 version (no s***) when in reality, that “weight issue” was really about Kap’s contract. Now that the 49ers aren’t on the hook for $14.5 million, you can bet on Kaepernick to start next Sunday on the road against the Buffalo Bills. This is how bad Gabbert was: the 49ers had no choice but to come to the negotiating table with Kap.
If you are a 49ers fan, you should be disgusted with how poorly the franchise planned for this quarterback scenario. The team pretended it could make it through a season with Gabbert behind center. Baalke and Kelly were fully aware of Kaepernick’s injury contract clauses heading into the season. For the 138th time, the 49ers would never have been in this position had they selected a young quarterback in any of the past three NFL Drafts. Baalke was legitimately trying to assemble a rocket ship that had no chance of making it to outer space.
As for Kaepernick personally, this could be his last NFL dance. By voiding the remaining years of his contract, No. 7 is on stage for an audition to relaunch his career. He’s never been one to doubt his abilities, but if Kap comes in and falls flat on his face — which many expect due to the lack of talent surrounding him — his career could be over.
There’s also a reason Kaepernick is still on this roster. Gabbert was never Kelly’s guy, but the only player who was fully healthy throughout the offseason program. Remember, Chip didn’t even name Gabbert the starting QB until after the fourth preseason game. From the moment Kelly took this job, Kaepernick has always been a player who intrigued him.
Another chapter of Kaepernick’s career is about to unfold. York should be ashamed it’s gotten to this, but also thankful. His former superstar quarterback was willing to help out the 49ers, who are currently tangled in a mess with no other way out.