The 49ers have officially benched quarterback Colin Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert

49ers head coach Jim Tomsula needed to make a change to the NFL's worst offense.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers made it official. They are benching starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert.

"Me, watching, feeling, where I'm at. I decided that now is the time," first-year head coach Jim Tomsula said Wednesday.

Kaepernick has started San Francisco's last 53 games, including six playoff games, where he went 4-2.

His two postseason losses came in the Super Bowl XLVII at the end of the 2012 season and the next year's conference title game in Seattle, that culminated in cornerback Richard Sherman's deflected pass toward Michael Crabtree in the end zone that landed in the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith.

Since that game, Kaepernick hasn't been the same quarterback. His efficiency numbers have ?taken a precipitous dive, including yards per passing attempt, passer rating and ESPN's blanket stat, QBR. More importantly, the 49ers haven't been winning at nearly the same rate. They are 10-14 since that game in Seattle, and lost former head coach Jim Harbaugh in the process.

The 49ers are 2-6 after their most recent loss to the Rams, and enter their game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons with the NFL's lowest-ranked offense in both yardage and scoring, by wide margins.

Despite Kaepernick getting benched, Tomsula repeated himself noting that Kaepernick wasn't the only player to blame for the offense's struggles.

"In no way is 2-6 all on colin Kaepernick. That's all of us," Tomsula said. "Everybody here in the Niners. We all take a big chunk of that. That's a concerted effort that needs to change.

"But this was just a decision that I just felt like I wanted to Colin to step back and breathe and look at things through a different lens. Keep preparing, keep doing his thing, keep working, but just step back."

Tomsula, however, would not commit to Gabbert beyond Sunday. After the 49ers play Atlanta, they have their bye week before another trip to Seattle the following week.

He said the decision to bench Kaepernick was his and his alone, while the front office was kept in the loop during the process. "I watched tape, had my feelings and talked with the offensive coaches and then went upstairs and let them know what my decision was," Tomsula said.

However the 49ers want to spin the decision to bench him now, Kaepernick's contract status will play a key role in his future. Kaepernick's $11.9 million base salary, before various roster bonuses, becomes fully guaranteed at the start of the new league year April 1. The 49ers can move on from Kaepernick with minimal financial repercussions by cutting him before then, or by finding a trading partner if another team is willing to take on his salary.

Benching Kaepernick could represent a significant organizational change in the future if general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York don't believe the team can with him going forward.

"I spoke to them about what I was feeling and what I thought...Why I thought it, what my reasons are and explained that to them," Tomsula said, noting his superiors were in the loop.

Tomsula also said he thought outside perception and media coverage played a role in the way Kaepernick was playing, adding proverbial weight to his shoulders.

"The (media) briefs and the clips that I get, that's where it starts and stops most of the time, on that position (quarterback)," Tomsula said. "I'm not saying that's right or wrong, but that's where it's been. Where does it all go? I just want to move you (Kaepernick) out of there. This isn't a blame or an indictment of one guy. This is a guy that I've got a lot of respect for."

"Colin's going to keep fighting his way through everything. The competitiveness in that guy is second to none."

San Francisco's offensive line in 2015 has been one of the worst in the NFL without former first-round draft picks in left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis, who left via free agency and retirement, respectively. The line has also been without last year's starting center Daniel Kilgore, who won't resume practicing until after the upcoming bye week after suffering a lower leg fracture midway through last season.

Kaepernick, ironically enough, is tied with the man he replaced in 2012, Alex Smith, as the league's second-most sacked quarterback (28) behind Seattle's Russell Wilson, who has taken 31. And according to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers have the league's worst run-blocking offensive line, after Baalke famously noted, "we're going to run the football," in Tomsula's introductory press conference last January.

"It’s not all Kap’s fault. This doesn’t fall 100 percent on Kap," Wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Unfortunately at the quarterback position, when things aren’t going well, you’re going to be the person that’s evaluated the most and the hardest. It’s on us now to try and continue to grow and change and see if it adds a spark.

"At the end of the day, if we don’t go out there and execute, it doesn’t matter who goes out there. You can pull somebody off the couch, if we’re not doing our job, then it doesn’t matter."

The 49ers said Kaepernick will talk to the media later in the week.


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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