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Sometimes I wonder why any of us waste our time with what's said (or not said) by general managers and coaches in professional sports. Shouldn't we all know the drill by now? No matter how the question is worded or how many times it's asked, the answer is still either going to be politically correct or completely ambiguous.
Although we've all seen this move before, that doesn't stop the flurry of stories about a subject, even when we're still kind of right where we started. This is the way I feel about the most recent act in the never ending soap opera that is the San Francisco 49ers and their embattled quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.
As most of you probably know, if Kaepernick is still on the roster April 1st, his 2016 salary of $11.9 million becomes completely guaranteed. That number is actually larger in terms of cap space, and would cost the 49ers $16.8 million in that regard. So, naturally, with the signal caller's future with the team a little cloudy these days, it was expected that general manager Trent Baalke would be peppered with questions at the scouting combine about whether or not he expects Kaepernick to be on the roster. His answer?
Now, if you took this response at face value and didn't read much into what he said afterwords, I think you're going to be surprised in the coming months. As Baalke went on, he didn't sound like a general manager who had complete faith in the player's absolute return. In fact, it gave me the impression that the situation is fluid and the 49ers (and Kaepernick) are still exploring their options.
"Bottom line, all of these guys under contract are under contract and the expectation is to move forward with them," said Baalke. "I can't predict tomorrow with anybody. The expectation is he's on our roster. I've stated that multiple times."
There it is. So after saying Kaepernick will "absolutely" be on the roster come April 1st, Baalke goes on to say that "you can't predict tomorrow," basically giving him an out for the absolutely comment. The expectation is he's on the roster, but hey, things change man.
"Obviously, we have two quarterbacks now who have proven they can go into NFL games and play and play at a high level," Baalke said. "There's no working knowledge of either of these quarterbacks in respect to the new staff. All of these guys are going to be competing for their positions."
This is the quote that really got me thinking. Blaine Gabbert will make $2 million this season, and count $2.25 million against the cap. His contract makes it very easy to justify him losing a camp battle and being regulated to second string. However, as I stated earlier, Kaepernick isn't in the same boat. It makes zero sense to me to keep a player who will count $16.8 million against your cap to "compete" for a position.
Baalke was asked about the possibility of the team's highest paid player being a backup, and he responded with the following.
"It wouldn't be the first time in history. Let's get these guys in here and let them go to work."
Yeah, okay Trent. So basically, you're totally expecting your most disappointing player who has your highest cap number to come back in an effort to compete for a position with another player? That's the entire plan, or is there another layer we need to peel back here?
"We feel pretty good with the guys we have but we're always looking," Baalke said in regards to the quarterback position. "We're certainly going to scour this draft and the free-agent market that's out there. Not a lot of quarterbacks make it to free agency. But we're going to look at every avenue."
Wait, there's more.
"You're going to kick the tires of everybody that's available," Baalke said when asked about Robert Griffin III. "To say interested or not, there's no competitive advantage for me to give that answer. But everybody that's available, we're going to kick the tires on, that's the job we do. Some are going to fit. Some aren't going to fit."
I think I've got it now. So basically, you're totally expecting your most disappointing player who has your highest cap number to come back in an effort to compete for a position with multiple players. That would mean not only could he be regulated to the bench, but could also be outplayed by everyone, causing him to be cut altogether. If you're scoring at home, if Kaepernick were to be let go under these circumstances, it would cost San Francisco $7.4 million in dead money in 2016.
Baalke did go on KNBR later in the day and backtrack a bit on his "absolutely" comment, posing the question "is there any absolute in this business?" I guess not, Trent.
As I mentioned earlier, the reality is that the Kaepernick dilemma is most likely still a work in progress. If he has value on the open market, it wouldn't be smart of the 49ers to just cut him and forfeit any compensation they may be able to receive. Kaepernick does make a significant amount of money, but it's middle of the road in terms quarterbacks in the league. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Kaepernick would have 16th highest cap hit at the position, slightly ahead of Andrew Luck's 16.2 million. When you look at it that way, it's not an obscene amount of cash for a team to take on if they feel he's the answer for them.
Ultimately, I think San Francisco will end up working out some kind of trade for Kaepernick, although the when and where's of that are beyond me. There are just too many questions and too much has transpired to continue this marriage. I also believe that, regardless of what they say publicly, the front office knows this is a rebuilding situation. With that notion being front and center, it makes sense to get a quarterback you can develop over time, and let him grow in Chip Kelly's system.
Al Sacco has covered the 49ers for various sites over the years. He's been a guest on multiple podcasts and had his work used by ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY. Follow Al on Twitter @AlSacco49