The curiously-timed leak that the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick are negotiating a new contract that would remove his $14.5 million insurance policy for 2017 has created the impression that the team is nearly ready to put Kaepernick on the field. While those who have been pushing to the public all the reasons why Blaine Gabbert continues to be the starter have omitted the very real financial incentive for keeping Kaepernick on the bench, the surrounding circumstances don’t completely point to an intent to keep Kaepernick in bubble wrap.
First, he continue to be the No. 2 quarterback. If the 49ers wanted to ensure that he won’t suffer an injury that could tie their hands in 2017, he’d be No. 3, behind Gabbert and Christian Ponder.
Second, Kaepernick actually played for a portion of the Week One win over the Rams. If the team hopes to insulate itself completely against owing Kaepernick $14.5 million next year, that development obviously doesn’t fit with the plan.
Third, with or without a revised contract, the 49ers realize they’re getting closer to the point where a spark will be needed, and that the spark could come only from benching the starting quarterback. While it’s possible that Kaepernick will be passed over for Ponder (the seeds of that possibility already are being planted), Kaepernick continues to be second on the depth chart.
From the team’s perspective, the situation is simple. Gabbert continues to be the better quarterback in practice, so he is the one who is playing. While the question of Kaepernick’s weight continues to come up, it’s more about performance than bulk at this point.
Would he perform better if heavier? Perhaps. Regardless, he continues to be viewed as not the best option.
The real question is whether removal of the $14.5 million injury guarantee would make him a better option. While the team isn’t surprised by the dot-connecting that emerged after the news broke of talks aimed at wiping the 2017 guarantee off the books, the 49ers view the attempt to swap the injury guarantee for a path to free agency as smart business.
It’s possible that someone with the 49ers leaked the existence of negotiations in order to pressure the player to accept the offer so that he can play. It’s also possible that someone close to Kaepernick leaked the news in order to pressure the team to play him sooner than later. As one source explained it to PFT, the universe of people close to Kaepernick has grown considerably in the weeks since he became the name and face of national anthem protests; all it takes is one of them to believe it will help Kaepernick to get the word out regarding a restructured contract.
The leak definitely helps Kaepernick, to the extent that it has created a sense that a benching of Gabbert for Kaepernick is inevitable. The news that some prefer Ponder could be the team’s way of pushing back, setting the stage for Kaepernick to not be promoted but demoted.
Regardless, the winds of change are blowing hard for the 49ers. Nearly hard enough to make some of Gabbert’s close-your-eyes-and-hope-for-the-best throws even more off the mark.