After a four-game losing streak with Blaine Gabbert at the helm — a stretch where the former first-round pick threw for just four touchdowns and six interceptions and posted an average passer rating of 65.1 — the team is making a change, Chip Kelly announced on Tuesday. Kelly and the staff met earlier in the day to discuss a potential quarterback swap.
Kelly said that the move had nothing to do with Kaepernick’s soon-to-be altered contract status, which should negate some of the balky injury guarantees in his previous long-term deal. Kaepernick said Tuesday to reporters that his contract is still being worked on. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that he’s expected to sign the new deal before he steps on the field.
When asked about reassuming the starting position in San Francisco, Kaepernick said, “I’m excited and ready to go.”
Gabbert, on the other hand, was not as pleased: “It sucks. I don’t like it.”
Business maneuvering aside, this was an expected development for a team that started the season with a resounding win over the Rams but face-planted in subsequent weeks. Kelly took the job knowing that he would have to comb the NFL, and likely the 2017 draft class, for his future quarterback. First, he’ll have to cycle through the ones remaining on his bench.
Despite the near certainty that Gabbert would not start 16 games this year, there were many perceived obstacles in the way of Kaepernick’s eventual comeback.
The quarterback underwent multiple surgeries this offseason and didn’t have much of a presence during offseason workouts. Kelly said as recently as a week ago that Kaepernick was not heavy enough to take the field again. Kaepernick asserted that he was fine.
The surgeries underlined multiple attempts by Kaepernick to part ways with the Niners and enter into an offseason quarterbacking carousel that saw Mark Sanchez head to Denver then Dallas, and Sam Bradford eventually head to Minnesota.
Instead, the 49ers held on to their one-time superstar in the hopes that they could potentially clear a path to the playing field, which is now much easier without the weight of salary cap crippling injury guarantees hanging over the organization.
A source told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that Kaepernick was “just zipping the ball,” signifying that his arm strength was close to normal even if his weight was not. However, Rapoport cautioned that Kaepernick has not been outplaying Gabbert in practice. The move is more about a potential spark than anything.
Kaepernick will make his debut against Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who said that while he understood Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem, he encouraged his players to stand as “a way of showing respect for the men and women who have served our country and are currently serving our country and that’s kind of how I look at it.”
Since Ryan’s comments in late August, Kaepernick’s protest against racial and social inequality has taken hold throughout the league, with players from many teams joining in their own intimate form of protest during the national anthem.
Kaepernick’s last start came almost a year ago, back on Nov. 1, 2015, in a loss to the Rams. In 2015, he went 2-6 under center with a 59 percent completion rate, six touchdowns and five interceptions.