How do you think people become CEOs in life? They snitch and connive, whisper and slink, poison and smear. Whether or not Jed York is the source for last season’s Jim Harbaugh smear campaign and the ongoing Colin Kaepernick smear campaign — which would further cement Jedster as the undisputed King Weenie of Bay Area sports — the 49ers’ boss really should be spending time studying contractual fine print this week.
If he did, he might realize that Kaepernick shouldn’t take another snap for this team and immediately be placed on the trading block, if he hasn’t been already.
While it’s true the 49ers can dump Kaepernick cheaply by dealing or cutting him before April 1, there is one disturbing caveat: If he suffers a career-ending injury, a clause would kick in that guarantees him more than $31 million. He would have to purchase an insurance policy that absorbs some of that expense, but why would management want to take such a needless, expensive risk for a player who won’t be here next season? Last I calculated, Kaepernick had been sacked 77 times since September of last season and now is completing only 37.9 percent of his passes while under pressure — the very definition of being rattled and useless amid duress. And who’s next this Sunday? The maniacal pass rushers of the Rams, on the hard indoor floor in St. Louis.
Mind explaining, Jed, why you wouldn’t cut your losses at once, order up some Blaine Gabbert and Dylan Thompson for the final two months and privately hope for a 3-13 record and a shot at drafting Jared Goff or another quarterback around whom to begin a massive reconstruction project? It’s time to put all involved out of their misery — including Kaepernick — and end his reign as quarterback of a team going nowhere. He was created and honed by Harbaugh, remember, and while York and general manager Trent Baalke thought they’d rediscover and retool the dual-threat wonder of 2012 with their own coaching appointees, this is yet another example of two football buffoons falling victim to self-aggrandizement. The notion of Kaepernick as an elite QB is lost forever, at least in red and gold, and the sooner they grant him a sorely needed change of scenery, the quicker everyone can move on.
As a helpless, hopeless Jim Tomsula said Wednesday, it’s “counterproductive” if management is leaking ill thoughts about Kaepernick to TV network insiders. All that does is lower his value on the trade market — and, believe it or not, there is a market for Kaepernick, maybe in Philadelphia, where Chip Kelly is dying with dropback flop Sam Bradford and might think he can salvage an athletic quarterback in a system conducive to scrambling skills. No one should covet new surroundings more than Kaepernick, who has been cast as aloof and a weak locker-room leader (by those whispering to Fox’s Jay Glazer) and needs to get out of here sooner than later for his own sanity. The drama reached the point of absurdity when Kaepernick, in his usual midweek media visit, was asked to name the teammates with whom he eats lunch.
“I eat a lot of times with Blaine, Dylan, [Alex] Boone, [Joe] Staley,” he said. “It really depends on who’s in there by the time I get in there. Varies on days depending if I have to do media or if I have rehab, correctives, things like that.”
Such queries are posed because of the leaks. No names are attached, of course, and keep in mind that player agents often are the sources. But clearly, Kaepernick is being attacked by agendas. If the 49ers were winning, the narrative would have him leading with “a quiet confidence.” When they’re 2-5, he’s distant and “just alone, on an island in the locker room,” as Glazer reported Sunday. Where such talk becomes corrosive and dangerous to a team’s psyche is when it’s accompanied by rumors that Kaepernick has angered some teammates because of his role in a supposed romantic triangle. First reported by TMZ — Trash Meets Zombies, I call it — he was said to have had a preseason practice fight with Aldon Smith, now his ex-teammate, over Smith’s ex-girlfriend, a radio personality named Nessa. Never mind that Smith, now making impact in Oakland with no off-field noise, was arrested five times and had three DUI Issues. He had friends in that locker room, including Vernon Davis, who is said to have exchanged heated words after last week’s loss to Seattle with tackle Joe Staley, a Kaepernick backer.
Peppered during his interview session, Kaepernick claimed to know nothing about the reports. “My relationship with my teammates is great,” he said. “That’s all I’m worried about. What the perspective is outside the locker room really has nothing to do with me or this team.”
Does he feel like he’s on an island? “No. To me, that’s a situation that I don’t know what the agenda is or what the credibility of that source is,” he said. “I have a great relationship with my teammates, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Surely, he saw the undermining of Harbaugh last year by similar sources. Is he being scapegoated by the front office? “I really hope not,” he said. “For me, I give everything I can to this organization. I give everything I can to my teammates to try to help us win and try to help us be better moving forward.”
How important is it to be liked by teammates? “It’s more important for me to be respected by my teammates,” he said.
His best comment? Kaepernick said he has to get better, a point on which we all can agree. As he turns 28 next week, in his fourth year as a starter, the sense is that we’re witnessing the finished product, at least in Santa Clara. He vows to improve, saying, “I would say that I have to take it to another level. I have to be able to make plays for this team, and I have to be a difference maker when I step on the field. … [Dissension] happens to every team when you’re not winning the way that you feel like you should be and things are going as smoothly as planned. For us, we have to put our head down. We have to keep working. We have to fix our problems and make sure we’re ready for the next game.”
That’s what the Eagles — or the Jets, Browns and Texans — want to hear from him. With so many NFL teams mired in unsettled quarterbacking situations, and with so few top prospects beyond Goff available in the draft next spring, another team will take a flyer on Kaepernick … just as, oh, Kansas City took a flyer in March 2013 on Alex Smith. Baalke, faring far better then as a personnel man than he has lately, turned the two second-rounders he got for Smith into five players — among them, star running back Carlos Hyde and linebacker Chris Borland, who was headed for big things until he unexpectedly retired at 24.
The difference is that Smith was playing at a high level when Harbaugh benched him for Kaepernick, who helped take the 49ers to within five yards of a Super Bowl title that season. The 2015 Kap isn’t remotely worthy of two second-round picks. Which is why it’s idiotic for management to drive down his price with whispers about his character.
That’s an act of self-sabotage, which seems to characterize much of what this franchise does these days.
Tomsula, who acknowledged presiding over an animated team meeting after the Green Bay loss in early October, compares the spilling emotions to “an Italian dining room table.” He also acknowledged that Kaepernick is among those who could be a better communicator.
“That was one of the things we talk about as a team, communicating, everybody. Not just him, all of us,” he said. “If something’s on your mind, there is a way to talk about things and go. … I would tell you right now I don’t see an island at all. I don’t. I see a lot of interaction. I see the guys interacting.”
The takeaway from Tomsula’s session was his observation about internal leaks. “That would be an absolute concern,” he said. “But I don’t address those things that I don’t know where they come from. There’s stuff that comes all over the place. I don’t know where people are getting their stuff. I don’t believe it’s coming from here. I don’t believe that. In that locker room, I don’t believe it.”
How about above that locker room? In the hallways and corner offices of Levi’s Stadium? “Oh gosh, no, I don’t think that,” said Tomsula, who happened to get his job after the Harbaugh leaks. “I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe that stuff. Any of that stuff is counterproductive.”
Especially when you want value in return for the scapegoat you’re smearing.
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.