The San Francisco 49ers have seen enough of Blaine Gabbert, the starting quarterback.
The Niners will instead turn to the signal caller who got them to the Super Bowl just three seasons ago, Colin Kaepernick — the most talked-about NFL player in recent memory due to a season-long protest against police brutality in communities of color.
Many assumed the team wouldn’t hand the reins over to Kaepernick, who had a contract that becomes guaranteed for the 2017 season if he gets injured this year. But the team is nearing a restructured deal, according to USA Today, that would strip that clause and shift his deal from a long-term agreement to one rich in incentives and allows him to be a free agent at the end of the season.
“[It was a] football decision,” head coach Chip Kelly said on Tuesday. “I don’t even know where his contract status is. That’s a good question for him. But, I’ve never discussed his contract or will I discuss his contract.”
It’s hard to argue the move has a chance of improving the team’s on-field results with Gabbert carrying the lowest quarterback grade through five weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.
But that didn’t make the blow any easier to absorb for Gabbert.
“It sucks,” he said when he met with reporters after the announcement. “I don’t like it. I don’t like not playing. I’ll be very forward about that.”
Under Gabbert, the 49ers had the second-worst offense in both total yards per game and total passing yards per game.
Kelly maintained that he doesn’t believe Kaepernick will resemble the breakout star he was in 2013, when he threw for 3,197 yards and ran for another 524, but that shaking things up was necessary.
“I think it’s just as a group, offensively we need to be better in a lot of ways, so we’re going to see what we can do and make a move here,” Kelly said. “It’s really one of the only maneuvers we can make based on our depth, where we are and what we’re doing.”
Kaepernick said he “feels no pressure” to restructure his deal to get himself onto the field.
At 1-4, the 49ers don’t have a lot to lose by shaking things up, and if the redone contract is finalized, they won’t be taking on as much long-term risk. And for Kaepernick, it’s an opportunity to prove he deserves to be a starting NFL quarterback, likely for another team, once his rocky stretch with the 49ers comes to an end in March.