The San Francisco 49ers are the second-worst team in the NFL, just barely edging the winless Cleveland Browns by one victory. With a terrible 1-11 record and an 11-game losing streak, the 49ers are already looking ahead to 2017 and what next season might bring – or at least they should be.
The biggest question surrounding the team is who will be playing quarterback. Will it be Colin Kaepernick? Will Chip Kelly draft a QB? Will they trade for someone like Jay Cutler or Tony Romo? That remains to be seen, but one thing should be clear: Kaepernick is not the answer.
Despite the fact that he’s played decently in the past month – Sunday’s embarrassing game aside – the 49ers have to move on from him and start fresh. Here are five reasons why that would be the best move, and the necessary one.
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He won’t be cheap
The 49ers and Kaepernick agreed to a restructured contract earlier this season, voiding the final three years of his deal and providing him with an option for 2017. Essentially, it allows him to opt-out after this season and become a free agent, or remain in San Francisco with a base salary of $14.5 million and a cap hit north of $19.36 million. The 49ers have an abundance of cap space, but even if Kaepernick opts out and comes back on a lesser deal, it won’t be cheap – especially if he finishes the year on a high note.
He’ll most likely still cost the 49ers at least $12 million next season, and given the way his career has gone, he probably wouldn’t be in favor of a one-year deal. Translation: The 49ers would need to commit multiple years to an aging quarterback whose skills and running ability have deteriorated. It wouldn’t be a smart move.
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He’s still not a complete quarterback
Don’t let the past month fool you. Kaepernick is still not a complete quarterback, and he’s certainly nowhere near the player Russell Wilson or Marcus Mariota is. That was clear in his debacle of a start against the Bears last week (1-for-5, 4 yards). Weather issues aside, he showed the inability to read defenses, go through his progressions and make simple throws. Having been around for six years, making mistakes like those are crucial and indicate that he’s not a franchise quarterback.
Chip Kelly’s offense is built giving quarterbacks easy reads, thus allowing him to throw into open windows. His quarterbacks have to be able to make quick decisions and avoid mistakes. Kaepernick has done a decent job of that, but he’s still far too quick to pull it down and run when his first option isn’t there.
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There will be better, cheaper options in the draft
At 1-11, the 49ers are closing in on a top-five pick in the draft, if not one in the first three picks. This isn’t an overly promising class of quarterbacks, but it’s certainly good enough to give way to a starter or two in Year 1. Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer and Mitch Trubisky are some of the top names to watch for, all of whom could be in consideration for the top quarterback off the board in April. The first two names are particularly intriguing for the 49ers with their offensive scheme. Both Watson and Kizer have outstanding mobility and while they’re far from polished players, they can develop into Pro Bowlers.
Regardless of where the 49ers draft a quarterback, which they absolutely should regardless of how free agency goes, he’ll be cheaper than Kaepernick. By comparison, Jared Goff makes just shy of $7 million a year as the No. 1 pick. Money isn’t an issue for the 49ers in 2017, but would you rather invest $30 million over four years in a rookie or $25-plus million for two years to keep Kaepernick? The answer should be clear.
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The off-field distractions
Kaepernick has become the league’s most polarizing player this season due to his anthem protests. While he’s simply standing for what he believes in and spreading awareness for legitimate issues in the world, there’s a certain spectacle that comes with having him on the roster. Military generals are calling him out, fans are booing him, politicians are criticizing him. While that may not seem like an issue to Kaepernick or the 49ers as a team, it does have an impact on the locker room. He constantly draws attention to the team, for better or worse, and players have been forced to address situations like his anthem protests. Obviously, I’m not saying the 49ers should move on from him because of his political or religious views, but the team could use a fresh start – which leads me to my next point…
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Chip Kelly needs a fresh start
Chip Kelly is all but certain to remain the 49ers’ head coach in 2017. FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer reported such this week, and all indications point to him staying in San Francisco. If he does, he should find a quarterback he can groom and build an offense around. He was stuck with a terrible situation this season with Kaepernick and Gabbert being his best options, neither of whom would excite any offensive mind.
Kelly needs to hand-pick his quarterback and start over at the position. Whether that’s in the form of a rookie – either a first-rounder or a mid-round flier (Dak Prescott-style) – or a free agent, Kelly deserves to choose who leads his team next season.