The headline is that the 49ers have benched quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The real story is the timing of the move.
With eight games already played, the 49ers are one game away from their bye. So why not let Kaepernick try his luck against a slumping Falcons team and then make a decision during the off week?
The fact that the news is coming the night before the trade deadline, via widespread leaks to multiple media outlets, invites speculation that the 49ers have made the move now in order to induce someone to call with an offer for Kaepernick between now and Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET. The decision to trade tight end Vernon Davis shows that the 49ers have entered fire-sale territory. So why not get what they can for the fallen franchise quarterback who perhaps never really was one?
The decision to send him to the bench likely means the 49ers are done with Kaepernick, and that he’ll be traded or cut before April 1, when his 2016 base salary becomes fully guaranteed. If that’s the case, and given that he has more than $31 million guaranteed for injury from 2016 through 2018, the decision to bench Kaepernick could represent a decision to put him in bubble wrap for the balance of the season.
They could get more by waiting to trade him in March, when a team like the Eagles could be in better position to offer more value for Kaepernick. By making a play for Kaepernick now, the Eagles would be disrupting the chemistry of a team that is only one-half game out of first place in the NFC East. By waiting until March, when quarterback Sam Bradford could be heading to free agency, it will be a much smoother transition.
The 49ers also could have more suitors in the offseason for Kaepernick, when more teams will be looking for competent quarterbacks in a league that doesn’t have nearly enough of them.
Regardless, the move makes it clear that Kaepernick is available now for the right price. Whatever the right price may be, there’s only one way for an interested team to find out.