AP file photo: Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Cassius Marsh (91) rushes San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) on Sunday, January 1, 2017, at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 25-23. Al Golub/CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
SANTA CLARA Calif — With incumbent starter Colin Kaepernick most likely opting out of his contract, along with backups Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, and Thad Lewis (who spent the entire 2016 season on injured reserve) all set to be unrestricted free agents, the San Francisco 49ers could find themselves in murky waters at the most important position once free agency opens up on March 9 at 1:00 p.m. PT.
The NFL Scouting Combine begins next week where the likes of Clemson signal-caller Deshaun Watson and North Carolina’s quarterback Mitch Trubisky will be on display for teams in dire need of a quarterback.
San Francisco (2-14), who own the second overall pick in April’s draft, fall in line with the 1-15 Cleveland Browns who have the first overall pick and are in desperate need of a quarterback, after having a league-high six different quarterbacks take a snap in 2016.
New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco’s fourth head coach in four years), who oversaw the NFL’s highest scoring offense at 33.8 points per game, doesn’t have a quarterback like Matt Ryan to run his uptempo offense currently on the roster for the 49ers.
Ryan passed for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions while taking home the MVP trophy and being named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year for his spectacular season guiding the Atlanta Falcons to NFC Championship, before losing to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
It may be tempting for Shanahan, along with new general manager John Lynch to spend their first round pick on either the aforementioned Watson or Trubisky and let him develop as the 49ers rebuild, but here’s a real idea: Kaepernick should opt-in and remain with the 49ers.
You may ask yourself, why would a natural, gifted athlete like Kaepernick, who started his 10th career game in Super Bowl XLVII (albeit a loss to the Baltimore Ravens), would want to continue a union with an organization that has gone down hill ever since parting ways with Jim Harbaugh in 2015?
It’s quite simple: Kaepernick could resurrect his career under a new regime (while pocketing the $14.5 million he’s owed by opting in for 2017, but gives the team the ability to trade him if the right deal comes along), and the 49ers as an organization, can begin to put the pieces back together with the help of a guy who can unite the locker room.
If you’re Kaepernick, staying with the 49ers gives you the best opportunity to be a starter and San Francisco seems like the more comfortable fit.
I can’t see Kaepernick playing for the Jets, whose head coach in Todd Bowles is entering the 2017 season on the hot seat.
Chicago, who wants to move away from the albatross that is quarterback Jay Cutler, is not an option. The Bears have been rumored to be interested in New England backup Jimmy Garoppolo and hold the third overall pick and could use that pick as trade bait to land the Illinois native.
For what it’s worth, if the Bears do dump Cutler as expected, many NFL insiders and “experts” believe that Cutler would be a fit with the 49ers.
Let me say this, “No.”
Cutler has no business being a starting quarterback in the NFL anymore and should retire, as he’s hinted this offseason.
Scratch off Cleveland and Buffalo from the list of possible landing spots for Kaepernick.
Hue Jackson is enamored with Watson and Trubisky and won’t pass up taking a quarterback this year after trading away Cleveland’s pick (No. 2 overall) last season to Philadelphia that turned into Carson Wentz.
Wentz threw for 3,782 yards and 16 touchdowns during his rookie campaign and looks like the Eagles’ franchise quarterback for the next 10 years.
Buffalo is expected to pick up Tyrod Taylor’s option worth $27.5 million in 2017. Taylor has enjoyed success in two seasons with the Bills, tossing back-to-back seasons with 3,000 yards to go along with 37 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
In 11 starts last season, Kaepernick threw for 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns, and four interceptions, but the 49ers were just 1-10 during that stretch.
Kaepernick showed flashes of the quarterback that had defenses on their heels at times, but the 49ers were just an eye sore to watch that had many fans staying away from Levi Stadium in droves and changing the channel quickly.
But with 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions (4:3 TD/INT ratio), Kaepernick still has the ability to grow into a serviceable quarterback and with the help of Shanahan, who has a history of working well with average quarterbacks like Brian Hoyer (44 TDs/26 INTs) and Robert Griffin III (42 TDs/26 INTs), Kaepernick could be the right man to lead the 49ers at quarterback in 2017.
Kaepernick, Shanahan, and Lynch all met with each other this past Wednesday, Lynch confirmed while appearing on KNBR radio in San Francisco, as first reported by ESPN Staff Writer Nick Wagoner.
Lynch was coy on the nature of the meeting, but mentioned that the group had a “great discussion,” and “Colin left excited, we left excited and I think as Kyle and I really believe, the evaluation is still very much fluid.”
During Lynch’s introductory news conference, Lynch mentioned that he and Kaepernick developed a strong rapport while the former safety was working as a color analyst on FOX.
Shanahan is certain to sign unrestricted free agent quarterback Matt Schaub, whom Shanahan worked with in Atlanta and Houston. Schaub could help Kaepernick learn the deep offensive playbook that Shanahan has developed over the years in the NFL while working for his father, Mike Shanahan.
The older Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers’ last Super Bowl title after the 1994 season, before leading the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowls at the end of the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
Quite honestly, Kaepernick should want to opt-in and sign a two-year extension giving him three more years with the 49ers and be the bridge to the real quarterback of the future of the 49ers: USC’s Sam Darnold.
Darnold looked NFL-ready, leading the Trojans to a 52-49 victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. The freshman threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns and engineered an 80-yard game-tying drive with less than two minutes remaining.
His 473 total yards broke the Rose Bowl record of 467, which was set by Vince Young during the Texas quarterback’s all-time great performance against USC in 2006.
Darnold is a quarterback that I know Shanahan and Lynch would love to have as the face of the 49ers and build around in the upcoming years.
For now, Kaepernick and the 49ers are better together, rather than apart.