With 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert continuing to play in a manner that suggests he doesn’t deserve the job, the team is facing mounting pressure to return Colin Kaepernick to the starting lineup. The 49ers can’t be any worse with Kaepernick in the lineup; why not find out if he can be better?
News that the team is talking to Kaepernick about a restructured contract that would address the remaining guaranteed money in his deal shows that the 49ers are moving toward making a change. Absent a revised contract, any injury to Kaepernick that would prevent him from passing a physical before April 1 would result in Kaepernick having a fully-guaranteed salary of $14.5 million in 2017.
That dynamic prevented the 49ers from trading Kaepernick to the Broncos or cutting him in 2016. With a trio of surgeries and an inability to pass a physical before April 1, the 49ers couldn’t cut him by then, and Kaepernick had no reason to reduce his fully-guaranteed salary of $11.9 million for 2016 to facilitate a trade to the Broncos.
The mere fact that team and player are attempting to resolve the situation in 2016 confirms that the 2017 injury guarantee has become an impediment to the team putting him on the field. Which means that the things we were being told (specifically, that he weighs enough to be No.2 but not enough to be No. 1) amount to a load of bovine No. 2.
The fans and media should be used to teams telling something other than the truth for strategic reasons. Here’s who should be upset: All of the people at CBS who were duped into believing that Gabbert will remain the starter indefinitely for some of the reasons proffered on Thursday night. Bill Cowher, for example, pointed to Kaepernick’s status as a loner during the pregame show. Phil Simms fell for it, too, declaring that “I haven’t in anything I’ve read, watched, watching practice, talking to the players, talking to the coach — there’s nothing that’s given me a hint that anywhere close with that quarterback change could happen with the San Francisco 49ers.”
Now there is. Talking to Kaepernick about wiping the 2017 injury guarantee off the books means that the 2017 injury guarantee was a major reason — and perhaps the only reason — for Gabbert not getting benched.
Suddenly, Kaepernick will be ingesting a magic smoothie and gaining enough weight to become the starter again, and the coaches and front-office executives and everyone else who was sucking through a straw a smoothie with a sprinkle or two (or more) of bovine No. 2 will suddenly start building up Kaepernick for his triumphant return to the lineup, which will come with a clear incentive to show that he still can play at a high level, in the hopes of getting paid on the open market in 2017.
Of course, Kaepernick can still refuse to re-do his deal. Now that the cat is out of the bag, it will be hard for the 49ers to not play him. Why give up the $14.5 million insurance policy for a shot at the open market next year and a shot at playing when he already has the former (since he’ll be cut if he’s healthy) and could end up getting the latter sooner than later, because the fan base is likely to turn to apathy if the offense doesn’t turn to Kaepernick.