It took all of six weeks for the clown virus to take effect, for the familiar itch of dysfunction to pass from Jed York and Trent Baalke to Chip Kelly. You actually thought a new coach would stop the lunacy in Santa Clara? Thursday provided the newest inane reason to either resume laughing or engage in primal scream therapy, depending on whether you still own a Stadium Builders License.
How nice of Kelly to assume that Colin Kaepernick wants to be a 49er before first checking with Kaepernick. No sooner had he echoed Baalke’s comments from a day earlier that the 49ers eagerly want No. 7 on their roster — “Kap’s really good,” said Kelly, who must have been viewing three-year-old tape — than the truth was phoned in to an NFL Network reporter, courtesy of Kaepernick’s agents: He wants no part of Kelly, no part of management and only wants to be traded.
“He wants to be here,” Kelly had insisted hours earlier in Indianapolis. “He’s never expressed to me that he didn’t want to be here. He expressed to me that he’s excited about getting healthy and getting going. And we’re excited about getting him healthy and getting going.”
Not only does Kelly look like a jackass, he also appears to be lying. Right away, we’re catching a glimpse of why so many former players in Philadelphia have badmouthed him — they didn’t respect him, didn’t trust him. It’s one thing to say he wants to move forward with Kaepernick and even shower him with praise, which he did in saying, “I mean, he had the ball on the 5-yard line [in position] to win a Super Bowl. You can just look at the tape to see how talented he is. You know, our job is acquiring talent, not getting rid of talent.” But it’s quite another to put words in Kaepernick’s mouth when clearly, with the initial report of his trade request confirmed by other news outlets, he doesn’t want to be in Santa Clara.
So whatever Jed and the Jokers were up to in trying to reel in their wayward quarterback, it’s time to move on now. Cut your losses, absorb your settlement money, trade him to any team offering a draft pick and start anew at the most important position in team sports. Kelly may think he has security with his four-year, $24 million deal and a firm decree from his boss — “Chip’s going to be here a long time, period,” York said after the introductory news conference — but the anger among 49ers fans is palpable after 18 months of chaos. He must show immediate evidence that he knows what he’s doing, which isn’t certain upon examining his Eagles demise. Being humiliated by Kaepernick is not a good initial look here.
If Kelly has any chance of winning over a locker room of players who have ears and hear the criticism — including accusatory hints of racism by more than one ex-Eagle — he’d better take charge of this potentially poisonous situation and move Kaepernick at once. What’s Chip going to do now, beg him to stay? Imagine what the players, divided last season by the ongoing Kap drama, would think of a regressing, skittish quarterback having the new coach by the nuts? In any sensible context, Kap would be the one begging, hoping this wild man with the frenetic offense would resurrect his dual-threat career. But Kelly and Baalke made the mistake of believing a public olive branch could lead to a happy ending. Don’t they get it? The guy’s head is in New York, where his girlfriend is an MTV star and radio host. Kaepernick was created by Jim Harbaugh, and it’s no coincidence that once York and Baalke uncreated Harbaugh, Kaepernick’s free-fall was inevitable. If the bosses hired Kelly because they hoped he could solve the Kap riddle, they’re even bigger idiots.
In that vein, we should thank Kaepernick for his first good deed in eons. Had his reps not spoken up, the 49ers would be dealing with a disillusioned QB and trying to force-feed him into an offense that requires a serious, diligent engineer. It’s better to know Kap’s true feelings now than seeing him stumble through another abysmal performance, a slog that sabotages Kelly’s first season.
So, who’s next at a position that once had Joe Montana as the starter and Steve Young as the backup? Armed with the No. 7 pick in the draft, the 49ers are positioned to land one of two quarterbacks viewed as potentially ready-made to play at some point as rookies — Jared Goff and Carson Wentz — while Blaine Gabbert serves as the sacrificial lamb. Problem is, Kelly might have blundered again Thursday by participating in a runaway combine angle: Goff’s hands are small. Though he’s 6 feet 4 and never heard a peep about it at Cal, Goff’s hand size measured at nine inches, which is considered below average among NFL scouts. Fully aware of the local narrative — 11 years after the 49ers rejected a Cal QB named Aaron Rodgers, they can rectify their error with Goff — Kelly didn’t have to go on an attack about small hands. He did anyway, jumping on a question about the importance of a quarterback having big hands.
“Huge. You better have big hands,” Kelly said. “(Seattle QB) Russell Wilson is 5-10 1/2, but he’s got 10 1/4 hands. You better have a big paw to manipulate the football.
“If you just look at it from a pure analytical standpoint, the guys who are more successful at the quarterback position have had bigger hands. Has there been someone who had had size-9 hands that has been successful? Yeah. That’s true. But basically you’re playing the odds. It’s like going to the horse track. Here’s our odds. If we take guys that are this height, this weight, this arm length, eventually you have a better chance of winning than if you’re always looking for the special player.”
Goff, the kid from Marin who never has said specifically that he dreams of playing for the 49ers, is baffled by it all. “I’ve been told I have pretty big hands my whole life,” Goff said Thursday at the combine. “I heard I have small hands, apparently, yesterday. No, I’ve never had a problem with that. I’ve played football my whole life.”
He has added bulk to his once-frail frame, now weighing in at 215 pounds. But he is dwarfed by Wentz, who is 6-5 and 237 pounds and, for curious minds, has 10-inch hands. A product of a successful smaller-level program at North Dakota State, he should be a project, one would think. But one also should consider the whims of Baalke, who was raving about Wentz the other day becuase — gulp — he has roots at the same school.
“Well, I used to coach there. They’ve put out a lot of good football players for a smaller, lower level of play that the conference has,” Baalke said. “Certainly there’s a learning curve that they all go through. But, I don’t think it’s as drastic as some may think. I think they’ve played at a high level. They’ve won five national championships in a row. Carson was a part of four of those. He’s a good football player. He’s got the stature you’re looking for. He’s got the intelligence you’re looking for. There’s so many positives to draw from. Now, how soon, how ready is he going to be when he gets to the league? I think there will be a learning curve, but there is for everybody at that position.”
Now that Kaepernick is a goner, don’t put it past Baalke to select Wentz — if he’s still around when the Niners draft. How Kelly feels about that, we’ll find out soon enough in what is a front-office rift waiting to happen. But no one should be quick to give up on Goff because of one hand measurement. What’s bothersome is that Gabbert, despite decent moments late last season, is a human white flag. While waiting for the future, the stopgap might go 3-13 while playing in a division with the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams.
Might Kelly chase Sam Bradford, who played OK for him in the second half in Philly before his firing? Sure, but Bradford wants $20 million a year when he has yet to prove he can throw downfield and stay consistently healthy. Kirk Cousins will be protected by a franchise tag in Washington. Denver won’t let Brock Osweiler find his way to free agency.
With Kaepernick out of the picture, Robert Griffin III might walk into view. But if Kap qualified as a reclamation project, RG3 is a transformational conundrum.
For all of Steph Curry’s miracles, there will be no better drama this weekend than watching Kelly squirm in Naptown. Here he assumed he’s solve his quarterbacking mess, at least for now, by smooth-talking a brooding man-child.
The bright idea boomeranged right off his head, as if conked by an errant Kaepernick throw. If nothing else, at least those balls will be sailing far and wide in some other town, while Kelly’s face remains redder than a Levi’s Stadium seat.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.