Colin Kaepernick is headed to the bench, a move that was preceded, and followed, by waves of debate.
Was the 49ers’ overall dreadfulness a result of Kaepernick’s suckiness, or was it the root cause? Isn’t there nothing that can be done to bring back the Kap who frequently dazzled the NFL in 2012 and 2013? Might the demotion wreck the guy’s confidence forever? Does Blaine Gabbert really give the Niners a better chance of winning? Honestly? Blaine Gabbert?
As it turns out, we were asking the wrong questions. Yes, Kaepernick has earned this insult. Yes, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers offense being any worse behind Gabbert. And yes, benching the quarterback is something coaches do when the alternative is, you know, benching the coach.
But there’s another explanation of Jim Tomsula’s reversal of opinion, and it has to do with Kaepernick’s contract. You remember the deal he signed in June of 2014, and our reaction to it?
Day One: Good lord, Colin Kaepernick just re-signed for $126 million over seven years. This is the biggest leap of faith in history.
Day Two: Oh, look at the fine print. This is most team-friendly “mega-contract” in history.
Kap’s contract, we quickly learned, was gold plate, not solid gold. It included $61 million in guarantees, but more than $31 million of that was purely in the form of injury guarantees, and hardly any of it upfront. (And thanks to those hardworking reporters – my understanding is Pro Football Talk had it first – who got the numbers; I’m borrowing here.)
PFT has reported that the 49ers insisted Kaepernick take out an insurance policy that would pay $20 million to the team should he sustain a career-ending injury. Still, the Niners would be on the hook for more than $11 million if Kap were to blow out a knee or ruin his arm over the next eight games.
A lot can happen in a half-season, but it should be clear by now that almost nothing good will befall the 49ers in November and December. This is a flaming Hindenburg of a team, and the best anyone in Santa Clara can do at this point is keep his/her job, or sanity.
So why risk 11 big ones for the sake of Kaepernick’s development, or his psyche, when he offers no evidence of being your quarterback of the future? Better to hand the ball to Gabbert, who ranks 47th in passer rating among the 47 NFL quarterbacks with at least 400 pass attempts since 2011.
So don’t just make Kaepernick second string. The 49ers should encase him in bubble wrap, attach blinking red lights like the cyclists wear and surround him with yellow crime-scene tape on the sidelines. They should drive him to the game in a bullet-proof Humvee and assign him a secret-service team behind the bench. They should definitely not put him in the line of fire when Gabbert is throwing an out route, or allow him to take so much as a step on the notorious Levi’s Stadium turf.
Keep Kap Kozy, the 49ers’ new motto.
Of course, there is always the chance Gabbert will get hurt, and the Niners will have to make another change at quarterback. So… Bradley Pinion, how’s your arm?