As expected, the 49ers didn’t dump quarterback Colin Kaepernick before 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, guaranteeing his $11.9 million base salary for 2016.
Unless Kaepernick would have been able to pass a physical, the 49ers likely couldn’t have dumped him before the moment at which the salary became fully guaranteed. So whether they want him or not, they apparently had no choice, given that he apparently hasn’t recovered from his cocktail of surgeries (shoulder, knee, thumb).
So where does it go from here? If Kaepernick still wants out, his next move could be to make it clear that he doesn’t “buy in” to new coach Chip Kelly’s ways. The easiest way to do that would be to not show up for the start of the offseason training program on Monday. Sure, Kaepernick would eventually forfeit a $400,000 workout bonus. But Kaepernick could ultimately get what he wanted more than a month ago, a trade.
Now that Kaepernick’s salary is officially guaranteed (regardless of whether, as a practical matter, it already was), there’s still a way for the 49ers to move him, even if he refuses to take less money. The 49ers could agree to pay part of his salary to facilitate a deal, with the new team picking up the rest and the 49ers getting a draft pick or other consideration in exchange.
The question comes down to whether the 49ers truly want him, and whether their desire to keep him is in any way undermined by his desire to leave. During Kelly’s time in Philadelphia, he developed a reputation for getting rid of players who didn’t embrace the program completely. Even if Kelly has learned that he should resist the temptation to let players talk their way out of town, all it takes is one momentary lapse for Kelly to say to G.M. Trent Baalke “get him out of here” and Kaepernick could quickly become the property of a new team — with the new team paying a chunk of the $11.9 million salary, the 49ers paying the rest, and San Francisco getting something in return.
Given that the alternative would be cutting Kaepernick and owing him the balance between whatever he gets elsewhere and $11.9 million, getting anything in return for Kaepernick could be the best possible outcome, if he wants out and if Kelly isn’t inclined to do whatever he has to do to change Kaepernick’s mind.