Colin Kaepernick wants to be traded. That’s bad news for the 49ers.
Put aside for a moment how that affects the team’s most important position. The fact Kaepernick isn’t captivated by the prospect of working with new coach Chip Kelly dulls any leverage the 49ers had.
During the NFL scouting combine, there was a suspicion team officials were trying to extract something with their over-the-top insistence that Kaepernick would be on the roster this offseason. The message: If you’re a team that wants Kaepernick, you have to come to us. And don’t come with a weak offer.
It’s hard to say whether that’s true. The 49ers have gone underground since the trade request was revealed. Three years ago, they feigned they would have been content entering the season with Kaepernick and Alex Smith, and they traded Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs in March.
It’s almost worse for the team if officials were telling the truth and intended to keep Kaepernick. That would mean they totally misread his anger and, worse yet, led Kelly to believe he would enter this season with two quarterbacks with starting experience, one of whom led his team to the Super Bowl.
Now that Kaepernick’s unhappiness is known, the 49ers likely won’t get as much in return. In fact, they might get nothing in return; why wouldn’t a team interested in Kaepernick wait until April 1 and bet the 49ers release him rather than pay a high-profile, disenchanted employee the nearly $12 million he is due on that date.
That seems to be what Kaepernick wants. He probably wouldn’t earn that much when he signs with another team as a free agent. But as much as he’s known for headphones and his white Jaguar sedan (both of which were gifted to him by sponsors; he’s never bought a car), money is not his main objective.
His objective is to get away from the 49ers, and being released would allow him to pick where he goes.
As with Smith in 2013, the 49ers probably prefer he winds up in the AFC, where there are opportunities, specifically with the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and New York Jets.
But if Kaepernick is released, NFC teams come into play, too, including the Los Angeles Rams, who are in the market for a quarterback. If the Rams want to make a splash with their move to Los Angeles, raise their profile in a division in which they’ve been No. 4 in recent years and create an instant, bubbling-hot, in-state rivalry with their neighbors to the north, all they need to do is sign Kaepernick, and the headlines will write themselves.
As far as the 49ers, there is no more polarizing question among fans than whether Kaepernick is the right quarterback for the future. (Please, no more “friendly” emails on the topic. My in-box is full.)
What’s indisputable is the 49ers are thin without him. Aside from Kaepernick, they have two quarterbacks under contract, Blaine Gabbert, a trade acquisition in 2014, and Dylan Thompson, who went undrafted last year. Gabbert, who has started eight games in the last 2 1/2 years, is signed only through this season.
A weak free-agency class highlighted by Kelly’s most recent starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, offers few options. The rookie class is good, but the top two prospects could be gone before the 49ers pick at No. 7.
It’s hard to believe that with all of general manager Trent Baalke’s selections running the 49ers’ draft – 58 since 2010 – there’s only one quarterback draft pick on the roster.
And there may be none in a month.