SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the center of a national debate when he refused to stand for the National Anthem last season, reportedly will end his protest for the upcoming season.

Citing sources close to the soon-to-be free agent, ESPN Senior Writer Adam Schefter reported on Kaepernick’s decision Thursday.

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He said the sources told ESPN that Kaepernick was ending his protest so as to not detract from the positive change that he believes he has has already created.

While few other NFL players joined in the protest it did spread to colleges and high schools around the country.

ESPN also reported Kaepernick’s representation, Select Sports Group, sent a letter to the league informing them that the veteran quarterback will opt out of his contract with the 49ers and become a free agent.

The 29-year-old would have earned over $14 million dollars had he elected to remain with San Francisco in 2017. Kaepernick was initially signed through 2020, but the decision to opt out became possible after the two sides reworked his original contract in October. The move also leaves the 49ers without a quarterback on their roster.

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Kaepernick reclaimed the starting quarterback job shortly after agreeing to the new contract. He started the final eleven games, threw 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions, and was named the team’s recipient of the annual Len Eshmont award, which goes to the player who “best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team.”

[graphiq id=”3cTjqmiQHnD” title=”Colin Kaepernick Career Passing Yards and Touchdowns” width=”600″ height=”488″ url=”” link=”” link_text=”PointAfter | Graphiq” ]

A return to the 49ers appears unlikely, but new general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan did meet with Kaepernick last week at the team’s facility in Santa Clara. “We had a great discussion. Colin left excited, we left excited and I think as Kyle and I really believe, the evaluation is still very much fluid,” Lynch said during an interview on KNBR radio.

Kaepernick’s protest drew both praise and the ire of fans.

He also pledged through his foundation to donate $1 million to community groups seeking social justice within their hometowns. Kaepernick has given away $100,000 donations each month for the last 10 months.

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On Thursday, his decision end his protest triggered an avalanche of social media comments.