49ers coach Chip Kelly continues to insist that quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s contract had no role in his status as the backup to Blaine Gabbert, or in the decision to make Kaepernick the starter. If Kelly is telling the truth, it’s one of the dumber positions any team has taken in recent years.
Of course Kaepernick’s contract should be a factor in the question of whether he plays. With $14.5 million in salary guaranteed for injury only in 2017, the team could be on the hook for a lot of cash and cap space next year for a guy they were willing to trade to the Broncos in March.
And it’s not just a serious knee injury that wipes him out for a full year that would trigger the obligation. If Kaepernick incurs any injury that keeps him from passing a physical by April 1, when the payment becomes fully guaranteed, the 49ers will be stuck for the full amount — just as they were in 2016 with his $11.9 million salary.
How can that not be a factor in whether to play him? Kelly claims he doesn’t care about contracts. Well, he should. Even though the 49ers have plenty of cap space, every team has a cash budget, every year. If Kaepernick is injured beyond April 1, next year’s budget will include a $14.5 million line item for a player that they may not want to pay $14.50.
Regardless of whether it was or wasn’t a factor, the 2017 salary is now a reality for the 49ers. If Kaepernick, who supposedly weighs 20 pounds less than he has in the past, gets injured and if the injury persists for 5.5 months, the 49ers will be paying him a lot of money in 2017 — money that could go to other players.
But here’s the reality. Absent a decision to bench Gabbert, those supposed traffic jams that last for all three hours of a game would continue (and worsen), with fans checking out financially and emotionally and the team losing a lot more than $14.5 million in value as 49ers faithful find other things to do with their time and other places to spend their cash.