SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers are going back to their playbook. This time, the target is Colin Kaepernick.
Nearly 13 months after a report surfaced that Jim Harbaugh would be out as 49ers head coach, even if the team won the Super Bowl, new stories are being written about the team's quarterback.
After all, San Francisco is 2-5, owner of the second-worst record in the NFC, and will likely be in range to take a quarterback at the top of next spring's draft. Or, with over $41 million in projected cap space in 2016 (according to overthecap.com), the 49ers wouldn't have any problem trading for a quarterback signed to a lucrative deal, if one is made available. It's a rarity, but still a possibility.
The offense this year ranks 32nd in both scoring and yards, which isn't ideal. Who gets the blame? The quarterback, of course.
Kaepernick was Harbaugh's pick to be the team's franchise quarterback. And those reports about Harbaugh getting ousted wound up being true, despite the absurd idea the team would actually fire a head coach that went to three-straight conference title games, and was one play away from winning a Super Bowl in February 2013.
For team CEO Jed York, moving on from Kaepernick would be the final move that would sever all ties with Harbaugh.
Monday, CSN's Matt Maiocco reported a players-only meeting involving an animated discussion involving Kaepernick about four weeks ago, when the 49ers were in the midst of their four-game losing streak, which included one of the worst two-game stretches of Kaepernick's career. He threw no touchdowns and five interceptions in consecutive losses to the Cardinals and Packers.
Maiocco's story came on the heels of FOX's Jay Glazer reporting Kaepernick was "alone, on an island," within the dynamic of the 49ers' locker room.
Whether or not the 49ers coaches, players or members of the front office are willing to admit it on the record (hint: they won't), people from inside the building are beginning to talk, just like they did when Harbaugh was on the outs.
Given the way things ended with Harbaugh, it should be no surprise the cycle is starting again with Harbaugh's former quarterback, who is 24th in completion percentage, 22nd in yardage and 24th in passer rating. It looks like more major changes could be on the way in 2016 if things don't start to trend a different direction.
Even though San Francisco refuses to acknowledge this season is a complete rebuild, there are very few, if any, positive signs that bode well for the future. The building blocks in place are projecting to awfully average. General manager Trent Baalke's recent drafts haven't provided the difference makers the roster needed to return to contention given all the important pieces they lost. But that's a case study for a different day.
But now, the conversation is about the quarterback. We'll start with him and take a look at things from the major characters' points of view in the latest episode of the melodrama at 4949 Marie P DeBartolo Way.
You are Colin Kaepernick
You signed an incentive-laden contract that provides no guarantees beyond this season, except for injury. The 49ers can move on from you whenever they choose. So, you spent the offseason trying to improve as a pocket passer. Meanwhile, the new coaching staff wanted to create an offense for you that highlights your mobile skill set, which conflicts with what you worked on when you went to Arizona. There was a disconnect there somewhere.
Your team added Torrey Smith, before Tomsula would say this isn't a drop-back team when the offense began struggling. Additionally, your offensive line, which was once the class of the league, is in shambles, which makes it tough to find Smith down field. You have two formerly undrafted players replacing former first-round picks, who left. Third-round picks Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas haven't become viable replacements, and you're left running for your life regularly, just like you did last year.
You've shown signs of improvement, but not at the right times, and definitely not against the Seahawks. No one will remember your second half against the Steelers or that game against the Giants because the team lost. That uptick against the Ravens isn't looking great either, considering all that's happened to your Super Bowl nemesis this year.
You look at your future and wonder what returning to the 49ers in 2016 would be like. Reports are surfacing about your personal life, which aren't flattering, and maybe a change of scenery would do you some good. You're playing for an organization that ditched your number one supporter and now the locker room might be split on your ability as a leader.
Maybe secretly, you'd prefer to re-establish yourself somewhere with more stability, somewhere with a better offensive line, and somewhere you won't be subject to reports about your eventual dismissal before it becomes reality. Your old coordinator, who helped you reach the Super Bowl, has a pretty good defense in Buffalo, and a mobile starting quarterback no one is really sure about. That's an idea.
You are Trent Baalke
You're feeling a little less secure about your job after two down years following those three seasons of success with the previous coaching regime. A lot of your best players, that you didn't draft, are gone. You're starting to feel pressure because your last four drafts haven't replenished your roster like you hoped.
No players from 2012 ever contributed in a significant way. Eric Reid is looking like the only player from your 2013 class with any staying power. Aside from Carlos Hyde and Aaron Lynch, it doesn't look like there are many Pro Bowls in the future of your 2014 class, either. The most recent crop from 2015 is loaded with projects. Some might pan out, or they might not. It's hard to say without knowing the long-term status of the current coaching staff.
When it comes to quarterback, you understand how difficult it is to find a starter that can win you a Super Bowl. You understand that Kaepernick could have been that guy, but he needed one of the league's best defenses, offensive lines and running games to do it. You're beginning to realize his skill set might be too specific and easy to defend given the way this roster is constructed. And if what's been reported about his personal life is true, keeping him might fracture the locker room, if it hasn't already.
You didn't draft a quarterback with a high draft pick recently because you felt comfortable enough with Kaepernick after what he showed you in 2012 and 2013. You hoped making his quarterback's coach the offensive coordinator would maximize his skill set. But you neglected the offensive line. Maybe you deserve a pass because Anthony Davis retired in June, well after free agency and the draft. Or, you knew it was coming and thought you could invest your resources elsewhere on your declining roster. Maybe the owner loves the idea of having all that cap space next season and you didn't have a choice.
The best way to secure your job future with the 49ers might be to find the team's next starting quarterback. You might be given that chance, because the recent coaching hire was York's idea more than yours. You probably wanted Adam Gase, but Tomsula was York's guy all along. Gase would have been better for Kaepernick, you thought.
Maybe that will buy you a chance to find the next head coach to pair with a new quarterback. Maybe hitting on those choices buys you a contract extension. Your current deal is set to expire after 2016.
You are Jed York
Fans aren't loving how everything has gone since the end of the 2013 season, when Richard Sherman tipped that Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree. It was after that trade reports surfaced about Harbaugh possibly going to the Browns. You probably wanted that to happen, because you didn't think Harbaugh's success was sustainable. But he nixed the whole thing because he loved the roster, the Bay Area, and the quarterback.
You thought Harbaugh was putting such a strain on the players and the organization internally, that 2014 was probably going to be a rough year. Hey, you were right. The team finished 8-8, making your "mutual parting" a little more palatable.
Then you said the expectation was to win the Super Bowl every year. You probably didn't believe that. Just being realistic. But you knew all those expensive personal seat licenses might be in jeopardy if you ever mentioned that dreadful word, 'rebuilding.'
But now you're really feeling the pressure. Your guy, Tomsula, might not be panning out like you hoped, and you're looking for someone to blame. Hey, Harbaugh's guy is still the quarterback. And he's not playing well. You'll come out of this smelling like a rose if you build a winner next year without the stench of Harbaugh anywhere in the building.
You're starting to wonder about your general manager, Trent, whom you personally made football Czar of Santa Clara. You're beginning to wonder about his ability to run an organization. You knew he could scout and break down tape. But if the last two seasons have taught you anything, it's that running the entire football operation is more than just finding good football players. And he hasn't been great at that lately.
You wonder about your quarterback's ability to elevate a roster, probably because that's what Trent has been telling you over the last few weeks. You probably aren't mad about negative reports about Kaepernick coming from your organization. You might have considered leaking some of that information yourself, like you might have during the end of Harbaugh's tenure. Nothing like finding a soft place to land.
You believe in yourself, because you built a football stadium in California. It's impossible to build a stadium like that in this place! But you did it. You can do all things, including move on from your current quarterback, who's leading the worst offense in the league. He's making you look silly for those Super Bowl-or-bust expectations.
At least, that's what you're probably telling yourself.
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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