As it turns out, the item from Sunday morning regarding 49ers owner Jed York’s position on quarterback Colin Kaepernick came from a much longer interview of York by Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News. The rest of the hour-long discussion has been posted in multiple chunks by Purdy, and it contains more from York on the team’s enigmatic once-and-perhaps-future franchise quarterback.
Asked directly about the reports that Kaepernick’s agents have requested permission to seek a trade, York was dismissive.
“I haven’t talked to his people,” York said. “And I try to stay away from what the agents say. I know what our feeling is. We want Kap to be healthy. And we’d like to see Kap here.”
Asked specifically whether the team will grant the request for permission to seek a trade, York became evasive.
“I think there’s so much tampering that takes place . . . which the NFL has kind of taken the governor off of, a little bit, in terms of what they allow to happen in Indianapolis . . . the tampering that took place in terms of what happens in free agency,” York said. “So would it shock me that people are talking? It wouldn’t shock me. But I think our guys have said very clearly that we’d like Kap to be part of the San Francisco 49ers.”
York’s acknowledgement that the league “has kind of take the governor off” of tampering in Indianapolis presumes there ever was a governor in place. There wasn’t, there hasn’t been, and there will never be. Tampering is rampant every year at the Scouting Combine, primarily as it relates to players poised to become free agents. But as to players like Kaepernick, who remains under contract through 2020 but who apparently wants a change of scenery, York is right. Communications with other teams will occur regardless of whether the 49ers sanction it. And perhaps the most significant aspect of York’s response is that he has become one of the very few NFL executives to actually acknowledge on the record the widespread tampering in which everyone (including the 49ers, most likely) is currently engaged.
Asked one more time for a clear position on whether the request for permission by Kaepernick’s agents to seek a trade will be granted, York avoided providing a direct answer but still responded. Basically, York acknowledges that permission isn’t needed.
“I’ve been around the NFL long enough to know that you don’t need to grant agents permission to make phone calls,” York said. “So, again, we’re not actively doing anything. I can’t stop somebody from reaching out. But our opinion is, we’d like Kap to be here. And I think when you look at what Chip’s offensive philosophy is, I think Kap is a very good fit for that. I think Chip has said that. We expect Kap to be here.”
And there’s the team’s effort to maintain the upper hand when it comes to trade talks. We want him, and we’re not making the first move if someone else wants him more. But if someone else calls and wants to talk about trading for him, we’ll listen. Otherwise, he’ll be on the team this year.
It’s obvious that the 49ers are trying to maximize the market for Kaepernick elsewhere by selling the rest of the league on their desire to keep him. The decision of Kaepernick’s agents to leak to multiple reporters their request for permission to seek a trade undermined San Francisco’s strategy. The team’s response represents the best possible chicken salad recipe they could concoct under the circumstances.
Meanwhile, it’s still unclear whether the 49ers or Kaepernick’s agents leaked to NFL Media the notion that the Texans and Browns are interested in Kaepernick when both teams reportedly aren’t. But it’s clear that’s the next step in getting the phone to ring: Selling the response of the league on the possibility that, if you don’t make a move now, he may be traded to someone else.
The only problem for the 49ers is that, just as York has been around the NFL long enough to know how tampering works, the rest of the NFL has been around the NFL long enough to know exactly what’s going on here. Which means that if anyone actually trades for Kaepernick it won’t be the result of gamesmanship or leverage but because someone else genuinely wants him on the team.
If someone else does, they’re keeping their cards close to the vest. At some point down the road, whether on or after March 9 (if the 49ers sign someone else, like Sam Bradford), on or after April 1 (when Kaepernick’s salary becomes fully guaranteed), or during or after the draft (when another team fails to get the rookie it wants), Kaepernick’s football fate for 2016 will become clear.