Coach Kyle Shanahan said he and the 49ers have no “attachment” to incumbent starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick and will analyze him like every other free agent, trade target and draft pick they are considering.
That’s because Kaepernick is expected to opt out of his 49ers contract, perhaps Thursday. That would put him in a position to be a free agent for the first time when the new NFL year begins March 9. It also would leave the 49ers with no quarterbacks signed for the 2017 season.
“We don’t have an attachment to Kap,” Shanahan said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. “We look at him just like all the other guys we’re looking at. It was good to get to meet him and talk to him. But besides that, we’re looking at him on film just like everyone else.”
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Kaepernick entering free agency is not a surprise. He indicated as much to Shanahan and general manager John Lynch during a meeting last week in Santa Clara. This week, he hired new agents Jeff Nalley and Sean Kiernan of Select Sports Group, a move he foreshadowed last year when he restructured his contract so he would have the option of free agency. Nalley handled that deal.
Shanahan said he and Lynch were blunt during their meeting with Kaepernick: The quarterback could return to the 49ers under a new deal – “I won’t close any door,” Shanahan said – but the team is not making any commitment to him.
“We just told him straight up, ‘We’re throwing you into the pool with all the other guys,’ ” he said. “We’ve got to evaluate all the free agents, the trade possibilities and the draft. And whatever we think is the best scenario, that’s the way we’re going to go.”
Three other quarterbacks who were with the 49ers in 2016 – Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Thaddeus Lewis – are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next month.
On Tuesday, Washington placed the exclusive franchise tag on one possible trade target, Kirk Cousins, while another, Jimmy Garoppolo, reportedly won’t be traded by New England.
Shanahan said the team still will do its homework on any quarterbacks who could be available in a trade. But when it was noted that Garoppolo and Cousins likely would be unrestricted free agents next year and the 49ers could obtain them without giving up any draft picks, Shanahan smiled and said, “That’s a very good point.”
Kaepernick is expected to join a free-agent class that includes two quarterbacks, Atlanta’s Matt Schaub and Chicago’s Brian Hoyer, with whom Shanahan has worked.
“Everyone tries to get guys that have been in their offense before,” Shanahan said. “But that’s not a requirement. That’s just a bonus. You get the best guys available. If they’ve been in your offense before – great.”
Kaepernick was unhappy with the 49ers during his injury-riddled 2015 season and asked to be traded earlier in 2016. But one of the sources of that irritation, general manager Trent Baalke, is no longer with the team, and Kaepernick has repaired his relationship with another, chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe. Some close to Kaepernick have said he is “very open” to returning to the team this season.
Kaepernick started 11 games last year and seemed to improve throughout the season. He finished with 16 touchdown passes against four interceptions and a 90.7 passer rating. That was his highest mark since the 2013 season (91.6), which ended with a 49ers loss to Seattle in the NFC championship game.
Shanahan said Kaepernick would be most effective in an offense similar to the one Shanahan ran in Washington in 2012 when Robert Griffin III was the quarterback. A rookie that year, Griffin finished the regular season with 3,200 passing yards, a 102.4 passer rating and 815 rushing yards.
“That probably gives him the best chance to be successful,” Shanahan said of Kaepernick.