The reeling 49ers, who sustained a series of offseason player departures and the firing of coach Jim Harbaugh, will be even less recognizable after the apparent demotion of Colin Kaepernick and trade of Vernon Davis on Monday.
Career reserve Blaine Gabbert will replace Kaepernick behind center against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, ESPN reported Monday night. That likely signals the end of Kaepernick’s 49ers career and possibly could lead to a trade — just as the 49ers traded away the quarterback he replaced in 2012, Alex Smith.
Davis, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end, was traded to the Denver Broncos in what could lead to a dramatic overhaul by owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke. At least Davis has a chance to win a Super Bowl 50 ring in Levi’s Stadium while the 49ers, on the same field, try to avoid a historically futile season.
The 49ers will get sixth-round picks in 2016 and 2017 and the Broncos also receive a seventh-round pick in 2016. If Davis, who’s due about $2.3 million on the final year of his contract, can quickly adapt to Gary Kubiak’s offense and finish strong, the Broncos could also get a compensatory draft pick if Davis leaves after the season and signs elsewhere.
Kaepernick has passed for just 286 yards the last two games for the 49ers (2-6), sparking questions about whether a big change needs to be made, perhaps more than just the quarterback, too. In a 27-6 loss at St. Louis on Sunday, the offense failed to score a touchdown for the second straight game and third in the last five.
In March, Gabbert was re-signed to a two-year to serve as the backup. He was the only 49ers quarterback to throw a fourth-quarter touchdown in the fourth quarter last season. Overall, he completed 3 of 7 passes for 38 yards and one touchdown.
Coming off a 500-yard performance and a shellacking of the Green Bay Packers, the Broncos made a bold move to acquire Davis, which shows football boss John Elway is all in for 2015. Elway called the 31-year-old veteran “a big weapon for us,” one who’ll add experience, speed and leadership to an offense that can use more big-play ability.
Davis gives the Broncos (7-0) some firepower over the middle that Peyton Manning has been missing since losing Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme to free agency, and rookie Jeff Heuerman to a knee injury just a week after the draft. The 10th-year pro has 55 career touchdown catches.
“With Vernon coming aboard, we’ve got four tight ends that will give us the ability to do a lot of different things,” Elway said.
Not only will Davis give Manning a red-zone target, but his addition can take some attention off wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders the way Julius Thomas used to. Defenses had to pick their poison and Manning could exploit one-on-one coverage.
Davis has 18 catches for 194 yards this season and is coming off a season-high six receptions Sunday. He was a popular player in the Bay Area. A sixth-round pick out of Maryland in 2006, Davis had 441 catches for 5,640 yards and 55 TDs for the 49ers. He added 27 catches for 600 yards and seven TDs in eight playoff games. His seven playoff TDs are tied for first among tight ends in NFL history.
Davis had 13 TD receptions in 2009 and ’13, making the Pro Bowl both seasons. He’s the franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards and TDs by a tight end.
“On behalf of the entire 49ers organization, I would like to thank Vernon for his decade of contributions to this team and our community,” Baalke said in a statement. “Not only has he contributed to some of the most memorable moments in franchise history, but he has also positively impacted the lives of many others through his efforts in the community. We wish Vernon and his family continued success in both football and life.”
As for life in Santa Clara, coach Jim Tomsula said every player is being evaluated. The 49ers are 0-3 in the NFC West. The offense has been abysmal.
“It needs a jolt, and needs it from every position,” fullback Bruce Miller said. “I know that we can play better at all 11 spots and until we do that and play together as a group, I think it’s fair to say that every position is under review because we’ve got to play together as a group, not as individuals.”
Tomsula wouldn’t say when a decision would be announced at QB, only that, “We’ll make those decisions when we’ve got those things done at every position, every position … Colin didn’t play good enough, neither did the team, the San Francisco 49ers didn’t play good enough.”
Is Gabbert ready? He had a strong preseason for San Francisco and is a former first-round draft pick by Jacksonville in 2011.
“I know where we’re going with this questioning. I’m not going down that road,” Tomsula said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Blaine Gabbert.”
Gabbert completed 23 of 28 passes in the preseason — for an 82.1 completion percentage — for 203 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions and a 108.8 passer rating.
Whatever happens, the defense appreciates what Gabbert brings every week on the scout team to prepare the Niners for the upcoming opponent’s quarterback.
“That’s coach’s decision. Every position is under evaluation each and every week. That motivates every guy at every position to go out and work a little bit harder … and can be held accountable,” defensive lineman Quinton Dial said, then noted of Gabbert: “He definitely goes about his business as a professional. He shows up, works hard each and every day and gives us a great look on the scout team.”
Tomsula said he is comfortable with his coordinators — Geep Chryst on offense and Eric Mangini on defense — going forward. The coach also noted he is meeting weekly with York and Baalke.
“I’m not at a self-doubt place now,” Tomsula when asked about his own frame of mind.
As for running back Reggie Bush, who suffered a torn left MCL after slipping on concrete out of bounds Sunday, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the organization has been in contact with the league for possible solutions. Bush was the second opposing player to have slipped on concrete bordering the Edward Jones Dome field the past two weeks.
“Player safety is of utmost importance and we don’t want to have any issues,” Fisher said Monday. “We’re going to do whatever we need to do to make sure we don’t have an issue with it.”
Bush planted both feet on the concrete and landed on his backside slowing down after a punt return in the first quarter Sunday after getting shoved out of bounds by Benny Cunningham. He slid into the padded wall of the stands, but not at a particularly high rate of speed, and was carted off after the play.
The 49ers also will be without rookie running back Mike Davis, who has a broken hand. A number of veteran running backs, including Ben Tate, are expected for tryouts given all the injuries at that spot. The 49ers did sign veteran Shaun Draughn, who has played for seven teams in his NFL career. Carlos Hyde missed Sunday’s game with a stress fracture in his left foot. Tight end Garrett Celek is going through the league’s concussion protocol.
Finally, remember Jarryd Hayne, the Aussie rugby guy? He tweeted that he was signed to the 49ers’ practice squad after he cleared waivers.