For the first time since November 1, 2015, Colin Kaepernick will be the starting quarterback in a game for the San Francisco 49ers. He will be the man behind center when the team travels to Orchard Park, New York to play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. With the 49ers low on options, he may even start for the remainder of the season. However, don't expect to see much of him in red and gold beyond that.
On Wednesday, Kaepernick agreed to a restructured contract with the 49ers. The new deal, reportedly a two-year one, will essentially allow him to void everything after this season and become a free agent at the start of the new league year in March – and it's very likely he will do so. Kaepernick will be free to leave San Francisco to find a new home of his choosing and the 49ers will no longer be on the hook for $14.5 million of his salary should the quarterback suffer a serious injury this season.
At face value, the contract seems like a win-win for everyone involved. However, it's really a bigger win for Kaepernick, who has once again decided to bet on himself.
Kaepernick has already attempted to flee the Bay Area once. In February, he requested permission to seek a trade and had a fling with both the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns. Denver was the more serious contender to acquire Kaepernick, but the Broncos were unwilling to give up too much as far as draft picks go. Nor were they willing to pay Kaepernick's salary and even had the gall to tell the 49ers that they should cover half of it themselves – basically paying the quarterback to play elsewhere. In good salary cap shape and with no serious financial need to unload Kaepernick, the 49ers didn't budge and talks ceased.
Following this season, Kaepernick will once again have an opportunity to bolt the team he had grown to detest. His new contract gives him the power to do so. The 49ers will attempt to rebuild at the position and find a quarterback of the future. It is unlikely that anyone within the organization believes that Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder can be that person. Of course, it is not yet clear if they will set sail on a quarterback search with or without current general manager Trent Baalke. His tenure likely depends on the success of this season, which is already off to a disastrous start.
In August, Kaepernick was asked about his relationship with Baalke. "We have a business relationship," Kaepernick simply responded. "That's the point that we're at."
Following the events of past two seasons, Kaepernick's trust in the organization has deteriorated. The $114 million contract extension that he signed in June of 2014 was, at the time, seen as a team-friendly deal. It would allow the team to keep a number of their own free agents, bring in new talent, and keep the 49ers competitive. That did not happen. Instead, free agents fled, new talent scoffed at Baalke's laughable offers or requests for visits, and thanks to poor drafting, the 49ers' roster diminished. It was not what Kaepernick had signed up for.
Thanks to a depleted offensive line and a lack of playmakers around him, Kaepernick got battered for two straight seasons. While Jim Harbaugh became the scapegoat for the 2014 season, Kaepernick became the poster boy for everything that went wrong in 2015. He was unceremoniously benched in favor of Gabbert and then placed on season-ending injury reserve. It was more than enough to push Kaepernick to try and find an exit strategy.
Now, here we are in the current situation. Should the 49ers pull off a miracle and somehow run the table for the remainder of the season, it may be enough to save Baalke's job. Of course, if that scenario plays out, and having a less than ideal relationship with the general manager, Kaepernick will almost certainly still desire to leave.
If the 49ers continue to flounder even with Kaepernick at the helm, the quarterback may still see no reason to remain with a team that has deceived him in the past and has no chance to offer him future success. So it would seem that Kaepernick's days with the 49ers are numbered. His exit path has been mapped out and it would be a complete shock if he were with the team in 2017.
The new deal works out financially for Kaepernick. His $125,000 per game in roster bonuses, which are paid out should he be on the 46-man roster, are now completely guaranteed. That's $2 million that has been converted to guaranteed salary. The new deal also reportedly adds $1 million on top of that in play time incentives for the season.
Of course, there is the slight possibility that Kaepernick flourishes this season, loves playing in Chip Kelly's system, and then seeks a long-term deal with the 49ers regardless of whether or not Baalke remains. However, if you are a gambling man, that may be a bet to stay away from.