San Francisco 49ers

On the 49ers: Could Colin Kaepernick make an Alex Smith-like return?

Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers seem headed for a divorce. But what happens if the team hires a coach who wants Kaepernick?
Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers seem headed for a divorce. But what happens if the team hires a coach who wants Kaepernick? The Bee

Where will Colin Kaepernick land if the 49ers part ways with him before April 1? One spot to keep an eye on: wherever Hue Jackson ends up.

The Bengals’ offensive coordinator was an unabashed Kaepernick proponent before the 2011 draft, when he was the Raiders’ coach. Jackson said he ranked Kaepernick as the top quarterback in that draft class – ahead of Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton, the quarterback he now coaches. They were all taken ahead of Kaepernick, who was selected by the 49ers with the fourth pick in the second round.

“We wanted the kid in the worst way,” Jackson told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in 2013. Jackson said the Raiders contemplated outflanking the 49ers by moving up in the second round to get the quarterback but didn’t pull the trigger.

That means Kaepernick could wind up in Cleveland or Miami. Both teams are scheduled to interview Jackson for their top job on Sunday, beginning with the Browns. But what happens if Jackson winds up with the third team that wants to talk to him, the 49ers?

Team officials have kept their options open in case their new coach loves Kaepernick. They’ve said speculation the quarterback will be gone by April 1 is premature and have insisted the first priority is getting him healthy. Kaepernick has had three surgeries since November. On Wednesday, doctors repaired a torn right thumb ligament and performed arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

The situation could become a lot like the end of Alex Smith’s 2010 season. It seemed he couldn’t get out of San Francisco fast enough, and fans were happy to watch him go.

He had been mishandled by one coach, Mike Nolan, and endured another, Mike Singletary, whose squads were inept on offense. Smith listened to fans chant, “We want Carr!” – then-backup quarterback David Carr – during the second half of a nationally televised game in 2010 and was demonstrably pulled by Singletary, who quickly changed his mind.

But Singletary was fired later that season, and the charismatic incoming coach, Jim Harbaugh, convinced Smith to return. Harbaugh knew quarterbacks, was a former NFL quarterback and somehow got Smith not only to stick around for 2011 but to lead the team’s workouts during the offseason lockout even though Smith wasn’t under contract.

Jackson also is charismatic, played quarterback (through college), has coached quarterbacks and, if hired by the 49ers, might try to convince Kaepernick to stick around. Jackson certainly could say his assessments have changed over time and he’s happy with Gabbert, who appears to be the favorite of the team management and whose statistics in eight starts in 2015 were better than Kaepernick’s in eight starts.

But the gushing quotes Jackson gave King and others about Kaepernick aren’t going away, and he obviously had Kaepernick rated higher than Gabbert in the spring of 2011.

Jackson – or any new coach – would have to be exceedingly persuasive to bring back Kaepernick, who wants out.

Kaepernick’s beef doesn’t appear to be with the outgoing coaching staff but with the still-intact front office that didn’t hold up its end of the bargain when Kaepernick signed a multiyear contract, as far as finding ways to keep free agents such as wide receiver Michael Crabtree, guard Mike Iupati and running back Frank Gore. And the fact that Kaepernick is having a checklist of surgeries in Colorado strongly suggests he’s miffed with how the team handled his injuries.

Smith returning for 2011 was a surprise. Kaepernick coming back for 2016? That would be a shock.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at

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