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One of the last positions on an NFL roster that you want to have up in the air is the quarterback position. Yet here we are. Just a day ago, comments by new San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly made it sounds like all the rumors of Colin Kaepernick's desire to flee for another team were unfounded. Kelly was excited to work with Kaepernick and the day before, general manager Trent Baalke had said that Colin would "absolutely" be on the roster on April 1, a deadline that guarantees the quarterback his $11.9 million base salary. "The last time we talked to Colin, Colin was excited," said Baalke.
How quickly things change in the National Football League. Since then, Kaepernick's agents have requested permission from the team to seek a trade for their client. You are probably sick of hearing about the constantly changing forecast on the relationship between the two, but here we are in the midst of more offseason drama.
It would take a pretty desperate and quarterback needy team to deal for Kaepernick, given that they would have to part ways with a player or draft picks and take on the disgruntled passer's estimated $15.9 million cap hit for 2016. There have been rumors that he wants to play for the New York Jets, but the Jets have shown no real interest in him. New York's top receiver, Brandon Marshall, even voiced his opinion on the rumors, saying that he was fine with the Jets' current quarterback situation. "I don't want Kaepernick," Marshall stated on ESPN's First Take.
Other possibilities? The Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, and Denver Broncos' names have all been thrown out there recently with nothing confirmed. At least two of those teams were rumored to be interested in a possible trade for Kaepernick last season.
Accuracy is one of the top qualities that Kelly covets in a quarterback. "In this league, you have to be able to throw the football," Kelly said while in Philadelphia. "Repetitive accuracy is the number one thing we are looking for." Now, there is a little more to what Kelly meant than simply completion percentage, but we're going to use that as a baseline here.
Over his three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, he worked with four different starting quarterbacks. The most accurate – as far as completion percentage is concerned – during that time was Sam Bradford, who completed 65 percent of his passes during Kelly's final season in Philadelphia.
By comparison, here is how accurate San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks have been during that same timeframe.
Who will be the 49ers starting quarterback once the 2016 season kicks off? It's anyone's guess at this point, but let's take a look at a few possibilities with some being more realistic than others.
Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers
It is entirely possible that the 49ers start the 2016 season with the man who finished their 2015 season. Gabbert replaced Kaepernick as the starter in November after his benching and remained the starter once Kaepernick was placed on the injured reserve list with a shoulder injury, ending his season. While Gabbert is not seen as anything special by the majority of fans, he could be a solid stop-gap solution should the 49ers look to bring in a quarterback via the draft to sit and learn behind him.
Gabbert won just one more game than Kaepernick in 2015, but had a higher completion percentage and averaged 253.9 passing yards per game compared to Kaepernick's 201.9. He also threw four more touchdowns over the same number of games (10 compared to 6). However, he had two more interceptions during the same span.
Jared Goff, University of California
The big news surrounding Goff right now is his hand size, which measured in at nine inches at the combine this week. It was within the realm of possibility that Goff might have gone as high as second to the Cleveland Browns, but their new head coach Hue Jackson had this to say about the importance of hand size in cold-weather cities:
"It matters because we play in a division where all of a sudden there's rain, there's snow and it's different. I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations and so we'll look for a guy that fits what we're looking for in a quarterback and is hand size important? Yes it is."
Did hand size contribute to Goff fumbling the ball 24 times – and losing 11 – over the past three years? The lean quarterback has also been inconsistent from time to time, but the potential for something special is definitely there.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein said that Goff is a "Rhythm passer who benefited from the uptempo and 'quick game' of Cal's Bear Raid offense." That is something that could actually intrigue someone like Kelly and Baalke.
|2013||University of California||60.4|
|2014||University of California||62.1|
|2015||University of California||64.5|
Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
It is entirely likely that Wentz will not be there when the 49ers select at seventh in this year's draft, but stranger things have happened. Competing with California's Jared Goff to be the first quarterback selected by an NFL team in this year's draft, Wentz has continues to climb mock drafts and team draft boards.
At 6-foot-5 and 232 lbs, Wentz is considered to be a prototypical athletic NFL quarterback. Having played in a pro-style offense, Wentz will likely become the first non-FBS quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since the Baltimore Ravens selected Joe Flacco out of Delaware in 2008.
Over his last two seasons as a starter for the Bison, Wentz amassed a record of 20-3. "He's got the stature you're looking for. He's got the intelligence you're looking for. There are so many positive to draw from," said Baalke in reference to Wentz. "Now, how ready is he going to be when he gets to the league? I think there will be a learning curve, but there is for everybody at that position."
Wentz impressed many at the Senior Bowl and was said to have picked up the pro-style offense quickly.
|2014||North Dakota State||63.7|
|2015||North Dakota State||62.5|
Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Another "potential" guy, Lynch's stock is all over the place. Some mock drafts have Lynch going high in the first round, even to the 49ers with the seventh overall selection, while others have him falling out of the first round completely. If Lynch is high enough on San Francisco's draft board, the team could theoretically trade down, gain picks, and still get their man.
The 6-foot-7 quarterback is trying to prove to NFL scouts that he is more than just a project and can be a franchise quarterback despite his college experience in a no-huddle shotgun offense. Lynch has been working with quarterback coach Charlie Taaffe for six weeks on the field and in the film room in an effort to become ready for a pro-style offense.
"There aren't many 6-foot-6, 245-pound quarterbacks with his ability. It may qualify as a reach, but it won't matter if he's a good quarterback a few years down the road," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.
Making some scouts skeptical is Lynch's game against Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl where he went 17-of-38 for 104 yards in a 31-10 loss for the Tigers, a game that he takes full responsibility for. While he has the ability to start and learn on the fly, he also could benefit from sitting and learning behind a more seasoned veteran.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Earlier this week, the 49ers' name was thrown into the hat by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport of teams that could be interested in Griffin. On Tuesday, Washington president Bruce Allen announced on Mighty 1090 that the team would be parting ways with Griffin.
Rapoport mentioned the 49ers as a possibility only if the team loses Kaepernick, which it now looks like they might. Griffin did not play a snap during the 2015 season. He lost his starting job to Kirk Cousins. Since being drafted with the second overall selection in 2012, Griffin has posted 8,097 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, 1,480 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, and a 91.0 passer rating.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Washington has been in talks with at least two teams regarding a trade for Griffin. If they are unable to find a trade partner, they are expected to release him by March 9. However, if that happens, it is unlikely that the 49ers would get involved in a bidding war for his services. If traded, Griffin has said that he is willing to work out a new contract.
The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year struggled with injuries and inconsistency in 2013 and 2014. "You're going to kick the tires of everybody that's available," said Baalke when asked about Griffin this week. "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."
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Kaepernick's name seems more far-fetched than it did just a day ago. There is the possibility that the trade request is a move by his agents and not necessarily the desire of Kaepernick himself. Or perhaps his agents didn't like what they heard from 49ers brass when they met with them in Indianapolis on Thursday at the combine. Were the 49ers' draft plans not appealing to Kaepernick's representatives, whose client already had to compete with Blaine Gabbert for the starting job?
There is some level of distrust between Kaepernick and the 49ers. Upon agreeing to a new "team friendly" six-year contract in 2014, Kaepernick was under the impression that the 49ers would try to retain some of their future key free agents. Instead, the 2015 offseason saw a mass exodus of key veterans and Kaepernick found himself struggling behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. A lot of the problems of the 2015 season seemed to fall squarely on Kaepernick's shoulders with questions from the media on whether he was being set up as the season's scapegoat, a perception that likely left him unhappy.
However, Kaepernick would be smart to stay in San Francisco, where he is guaranteed to make a lot of money regardless of how much he plays. After all, it is unlikely that the team, who is estimated to have over $50 million in cap space, is asking him to take a pay cut. They can afford him no matter what role he plays. In 2011, his predecessor, Alex Smith, swallowed his pride and returned to the 49ers, who had a new head coach, to prove doubters wrong – and he was free and clear to leave. All he did that year was help the 49ers return to relevance and to the NFC Championship game. This could be Kaepernick's opportunity to do the same.