SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Which is a longer long shot: Trump being elected President, or Kaepernick returning to the San Francisco 49ers 2017?
Now that one nag is in the barn, how about the other? When Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers restructured his contract, it all but guaranteed Kaepernick his walking papers. Good riddance, go kneel on someone else’s sideline.
That was until Sunday in Arizona where Kaepernick played his best game since 2013. Coming off a blowout loss to the Saints the previous week in which he had thrown for 398 yards, Kaepernick seemed to turn back the clock. He showed pocket presence rarely seen, even during the Super Bowl run in 2012. He ran effectively and protected himself when necessary. He led the game-tying drive and showed a genuine leadership that had not been on display until yesterday. And for the first time since he regained his starting job, Kaepernick did not turn the ball over.
For years, Jim Harbaugh gloated about Kaepernick’s “hose,” his ability to throw the football through Jed York’s Levi’s Stadium office window. What eluded Kaepernick, however, was the ability to put air underneath the football, allowing the receiver to run under the ball, instead of having to run to the ball. He did that on Sunday with a floater over the middle to Vance McDonald that the tight end was able to run under and catch for a gain of 32 yards. That pass was the single greatest improvement I’ve seen in Kaepernick since he’s been a 49er.
Kaepernick is coming down the final stretch of his 49er career. But before he hits the finish line, you have to ask yourself, who’s next? Blaine Gabbert? Christian Ponder? For weeks, I thought it made sense to evaluate those players for the back-up quarterback spot in 2017. I thought by playing Kaepernick, the 49ers were simply allowing him to audition for the rest of the league. Now I’m not so sure.
The 49ers can either extend Kaepernick into 2017 or simply cut him. They cannot franchise tag him. If the 49ers elect to keep him, it will reportedly cost them $14.5 million. Kaepernick also has the option to walk away and seek riches elsewhere.
But what is the logical solution for both the 49ers and the quarterback? If Chip Kelly remains the head coach, his best option for next season is Kaepernick. And as strange as it seems, the best option for Kaepernick might be staying put.
Look across the landscape of the NFL. Kaepernick’s style of play must fit that team’s offensive philosophy. There simply aren’t many options.
Kaepernick comes with baggage. Will prospective suitors take flack for a signing a quarterback that refuses to stand during the National Anthem? Will a new fan base support a player with a social cause that never registered to vote? The Bay Area embraces free speech and has a rich history of protest and tolerance. Kaepernick should not take that acceptance for granted.
More important for the player and the team, Kaepernick’s play is what is driving the decision. He is gaining confidence, familiarity, and support.
“Every week that I get more reps it’s more and more comfortable,” said Kaepernick. “I think at this point when Chip’s calling a play or Mod (Curtis Modkins) is calling a play, I know what they’re thinking.”
Where does Trent Baalke fit into all of this? The relationship between Kaepernick and the general manager is well-chronicled. In truth, Baalke hasn’t earned another year. But a new GM could very well mean a new coach which changes the entire Kaepernick equation.
So it really comes down to this: If the decision is to retain Kaepernick, it likely means Kelly stays and Baalke gets another year.
Go ahead and laugh. The Republicans are, too.
See you on TV.