By Sam McPherson
There was a moment during the offseason prior to the 2014 regular season when the San Francisco 49ers had to make a decision; to sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a long-term extension or not. The 49ers made the wrong choice, and in the 23 games since signing that contact, Kaepernick has regressed.
In his first home game, and the official christening of the 49ers' new stadium in Santa Clara, after signing the big contract he neither deserved nor warranted, Kaepernick turned the ball over four times against the Chicago Bears in a loss that set the tone for everything that's come down the organization pipeline since then; a 10-13 record with a lot more disappointing days to come before this 2015 season is over.
The 49ers are 2-5 right now, and they will probably be 2-6 after this weekend's visit to St. Louis to play the Rams. After that, San Francisco hosts the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium, which means the team is looking at 2-7 by the time the bye week rolls around on November 15. Not all of that is Kaepernick's fault, of course, but when the offense is the lowest-scoring group in the league, the blame has to fall on the quarterback somehow.
Kaepernick's Total Quarterback Rating has declined in every season he's been in the league, strangely, a pattern that isn't likely to change with this S.F. roster. On a weekly basis, he makes simple mistakes that hurt the offense, such as taking delay-of-game penalties. He has veteran receivers all around him on the field, but Kaepernick can rarely connect with them enough to sustain long scoring drives.
So many 49er Faithful loved Kaepernick for his 2012 Super Bowl run, the team may have taken a big public-relations hit if they hadn't signed him to that extension; even if it would have been better for the team in the long run to pursue another quarterback either by free agency or trade. Then-coach Jim Harbaugh had the ability to work with a lot of quarterbacks and their talents (see Alex Smith), and the 49ers could have used Kaep himself as trade bait.
The news on Tuesday was that maybe Kaepernick won't play on Sunday against St. Louis due to a thumb injury. Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert has a 5-22 record as a starter in the NFL, having been drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the same draft that the 49ers picked Kaepernick. However, perhaps this is just the beginning of the end of Kaepernick in a 49er uniform, disguised as something else.
The 2016 NFL Draft will be stocked with quarterback prospects, and the worse the 49ers finish this season, the better pick they will get next spring in the draft. Kaepernick's contract has an out in it for the 49ers that won't leave the team with a huge cap hit for releasing their one-time savior. Even with Kaepernick at quarterback, San Francisco will be lucky to go 5-11 this season, so why not play Gabbert and finish with an even worse record? Look at some of the quarterbacks the 49ers can draft in April 2016: California's Jared Goff, Michigan State's Connor Cook, Ohio State's Cardale Jones, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, and so on.
San Francisco could even take two quarterbacks in the draft if it wanted to. Tanking isn't something any team wants to admit to, but it does happen. The Indianapolis Colts probably did it during the 2011 season when Peyton Manning was injured and out for the season, knowing their reward would be Stanford Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck. It's openly talked about in the National Basketball Association too.
As we watch the rest of this 2015 NFL regular season, these are things to consider when it comes to Kaepernick's playing time. Reports this week that he's a loner in the locker room don't help his chances of sticking with San Francisco long term, so we may be seeing the last of Colin Kaepernick in a 49ers uniform this fall.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.
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