SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The truth about Colin Kaepernick is he's not all that much different from the player that played in a Super Bowl and conference title game in his first two seasons as the 49ers' starting quarterback.
But that's not the only truth. Kaepernick this year led the NFL's worst offense through the first eight games, both in scoring and in yardage, by wide margins.
Kaepernick's play certainly didn't help the team's dire situation. But neither have his new coaching staff, offensive line, and a recent injury to the team's second-most important offensive player Carlos Hyde. Just about everyone with fingerprints on the 49ers' offense deserves to shoulder blame, Kaepernick included.
The success of Jim Harbaugh's teams with Kaepernick at the helm was predicated on ball control, complementing one of the NFL's premier defenses, and field position. The 49ers never wanted to rely on Kaepernick's arm to win games. But that has all changed with the complexities if this year's team, which has become one of the league's worst.
What does benching Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert do? It screams desperation from a team willing to try anything to improve. After all, the 49ers couldn't get any worse offensively. And with the long-term status of head coach Jim Tomsula and his coaching staff looking bleak, Tomsula doesn't have anything to lose by trying something new.
If Gabbert somehow produces a win over the 6-2 Falcons Sunday, it will be Tomsula's only triumph so far this season. If Gabbert struggles like Kaepernick did, then the opinion of Tomsula doesn't really change.
Kaepernick's contract status, from the team's perspective, makes benching him more palatable. When he signed his six-year extension prior to last season, his salary cap figures going forward grouped him with the league's most expensive quarterbacks. Being benched now gives the 49ers leverage if they wanted to renegotiate his contract before the start of the league year, when his salary becomes guaranteed.
More likely: San Francisco finds a way to move on from Kaepernick, either by releasing him before the start of the new league year or finding a trading partner (hello, Buffalo?).
Heading into the season, it was difficult to say whether or not Kaepernick would elevate the team's roster that was trending down after a disastrous offseason. Through eight games, he clearly didn't.
Gabbert, drafted 26 spots ahead of Kaepernick in the 2011 draft, was one of the league's worst quarterbacks with the Jaguars before getting benched in 2013, following a loss to the Rams when he completed nine of 19 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown and a pair of interceptions.
The previous season, when Gabbert started 10 games before an injury ended his year, Gabbert went 1-9 as Jacksonville's starter, averaged 166 yards passing with a 77.4 quarterback rating.
Kaepernick this year averaged 202 yards per game with a 78.8 passer rating, and hasn't turned the ball over since Oct. 4's game against the Packers.
Realistically, the 49ers will have a good idea of Gabbert's viability as a starting quarterback after his first two games. After Sunday, the 49ers have their bye week before they travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks, who have owned Kaepernick throughout his career. Gabbert won't likely fare much better. But if he does, it will be turned into a major indictment of Kaepernick.
San Francisco has officially entered crisis mode, where the team will juggle pride against its future. The more games the team loses, the more likely it is to land its choice of quarterback at the top of next spring's draft.
Perhaps playing Gabbert will help them reach that goal, or ruin it if he finds a way to win games down the stretch. Then things could get even more confusing.
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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