For months, a rumor has circulated that the 49ers were shopping Colin Kaepernick. For at least three reasons, the rumor always was ridiculous.
It’s very difficult to trade star players in the NFL because the other team has to fit the traded player into its salary schedule and stay under the cap.
There’s a serious shortage of good quarterbacks in the league, and the 49ers don’t have another legitimate quarterback under contract.
And there’s a third reason: The 49ers are destined to finish last in their division, and they need a player who can make spectacular plays and divert fans from the ongoing franchise eyesore. Kaepernick can make those plays.
In the offseason, Kaepernick had intense workouts with Kurt Warner to learn how to be a pocket passer. In the spring workouts, he seemed to have learned his lessons well, but there’s always a “but.” The Niners have lost key offensive lineman Anthony Davis to retirement, though Davis said he may return in 2016. Also, guard Mike Iupati left in free agency. Losing high-quality blockers leaves a massive hole. So, against strong defensive teams, Kaepernick will not have good pass protection. He’ll be scrambling much of the time.
Which could be fun, if not productive or conducive to winning. At least he’ll have possible bailouts in Reggie Bush and new receiver Torrey Smith, who could make things promising with Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis if Kaepernick has enough to time to find them.
The defense also has issues, with the retirements of Patrick Willis (unexpected) and Chris Borland (stunning) fueling more doubts. NaVorro Bowman returns to join newcomer Darnell Dockett, but the secondary has issues — and nobody to cover big-body tight end Jimmy Graham, acquired by the rival Seahawks.
The NFL decision-makers know that fans prefer big offensive shows to defensive shutdowns, so they’ve tried to gear the 21st-century game that way.
Meaning, the 49ers’ great quarterback experiment won’t hold up against good teams. Kaepernick will be forced back into the style he brought with him from college, breaking free on a run or throwing a pass across his body on the run. That’s a style that has been slowed or even stopped by the good defensive teams as they’ve become more familiar with him. But for now, Kaepernick and the Niners have no choice.
For long-term success, Kaepernick has to learn how to be comfortable in the pocket. This is not like the Steve Young transformation, though uninformed writers have tried to make the comparison. Young was a pocket passer in college, setting an NCAA record for completion percentage. He picked up some bad habits playing for wretched teams — first the L.A. Express in the USFL, then Tampa Bay in the NFL. He had to reboot, but he knew how to be a pocket passer.
This will be more difficult for Kaepernick because he’s had so much success as a different type of quarterback. But he’s a different person now than he was earlier in his 49ers career, much more mature and willing to change.
And, the 49ers have no choice.There is such a quarterback shortage that even Tim Tebow is getting another chance to show he’s not an NFL quarterback. I’m not a Trent Baalke admirer, but in this QB market, the last thing he’d do is trade a talented commodity. And Colin Kaepernick is that.
Give him that much.