In February, it became clear that quarterback Colin Kaepernick wanted out of San Francisco. In March, a trade to Denver nearly happened.
The calendar now says August, and it’s hardly a certainty that Kaepernick will be a member of the 49ers in 2016 or, if he is, that he’ll actually play.
Kaepernick continues to be bound to the 49ers by a contract that appeared to be team friendly when it was signed but that, given a pair of subpar seasons, has swung the other way. For 2016, Kaepernick will make $11.9 million fully guaranteed, an obligation the team couldn’t have avoided by cutting him before the payment vested on April 1 because Kaepernick was injured.
The potential trade to the Broncos cratered because Kaepernick refused to slash his salary and the 49ers declined to pay a large chunk of it in order to facilitate the deal. With the season approaching, the 49ers would surely entertain unloading the salary if a starting quarterback with another team (I won’t name names in order to avoid being accused to applying a jinx, hex, and/or kibosh) suffers a serious injury in the preseason. The 49ers also could cut Kaepernick before Week One. They’d owe him $11.9 million, minus whatever he makes with another team — which at this point probably wouldn’t be much.
Absent a trade or a willingness to pay Kaepernick a lot of money to go away, the 49ers have the RGIII option at their disposal. That would entail putting Kaepernick on the bench and keeping him in bubble wrap so that, come 2017, they won’t be strapped with a fully-guaranteed $14.5 million obligation that can’t be avoided before April 1 if he’s injured, again.
That’s why it’s tempting to view this chatter about a “dead arm” as a way to get Blaine Gabbert ready for Week One without declaring Kaepernick to be No. 2 at best, which in turn would diminish his potential trade value. (Then again, the “dead arm” thing likely doesn’t help matters.) With each practice and preseason game that Kaepernick doesn’t participate in, the question becomes whether he’ll simply be paid $11.9 million not to play this year, so that the team can avoid paying him $14.5 million next year.
Regardless of whether it’s the approach the team takes, it’s the best business decision if coach Chip Kelly has decided that Kaepernick’s skills don’t justify the financial commitment — which is precisely the decision Kelly previously made in Philadelphia about receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy. The only real question becomes whether they pay him $11.9 million to sit on the bench, or whether they give him $11.9 million (less whatever he’d made as a free agent) to go away.