April 1 looms, but it may not be the pivotal date in the Colin Kaepernick saga it’s long been billed to be.
Former player agent Joel Corry, for example, says there’s a better chance Kaepernick will get traded around the time of the April 28-30 draft when general managers are constantly on the phone with one another and when teams have a better understanding of their quarterback situations.
April 1, which is Friday, is when $11.9 million of Kaepernick’s 2016 contract becomes fully guaranteed. Some have suspected the 49ers will release him before then to avoid being on the hook for that sum.
The Denver Broncos are the most likely trade partner for Kaepernick. They may have decided to wait on a true trade offer over the last few weeks because, well, why trade away a draft pick now when there’s a possibility they could get the quarterback for nothing later?
The 49ers, meanwhile, have insisted until they are blue in the face that they are prepared to hang onto Kaepernick beyond Friday. After all, they have plenty of salary cap space – $54 million, per the NFL Players Association, which is more than any team in the league – to absorb the guarantee, whereas the Broncos ($2 million in cap space) do not.
As Joel points out, the 49ers may not even avoid paying Kaepernick his guarantee even if they release him before Friday. That’s because Kaepernick is still recovering from not one, not two, but three injuries from the 2015 season, and releasing him – and thus trying to sidestep the $11.9 million guarantee – likely would trigger a grievance from Kaepernick. That is, the 49ers may end up paying at least a big chunk of that sum later on in a settlement.
Finally, releasing Kaepernick would leave the 49ers with no quarterback to compete with Blaine Gabbert and no draft-pick compensation. And the 49ers would be loath to end the Kaepernick era with their hands empty.
Denver QB conundrum – The Broncos may be banking on grabbing a quarterback with the last pick of the first round, No. 31 overall. But that’s a gamble.
Any quarterback-needy team at the top of the draft that doesn’t select one in Round 1 may try to remedy that by trading back into the first round, thus leapfrogging the Broncos.
Say, for instance, the 49ers like Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook but don’t think he’ll be there when they pick in the second round, No. 37 overall. They could package a few of their picks together – they are expecting 22 altogether in the 2016 and ’17 drafts – and trade back into the first round to grab Cook.
Which, of course, would put more pressure on Denver to trade for Kaepernick.
The cap … and trade? – Speaking of trades: The salary cap-strapped Jets don’t know what to do with standout defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who was franchised last month and wants a long-term deal. Wilkerson, 26, had 12 sacks last year, but the Jets are loaded along the defensive line.
The 49ers are not. Neither nose tackle Ian Williams (ankle) nor defensive end Glenn Dorsey (ACL) may be ready at the start of the season, leaving them with Arik Armstead, Quinton Dial and a few untested backups. Unlike the Jets ($3.4 million below the salary cap, per the NFLPA), the 49ers have plenty of room under the cap.
Why not a deal that included, perhaps among other sweeteners, exchanging Kaepernick for Wilkerson? After all, the 49ers need defensive linemen while the Jets have had trouble signing their 2015 starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Yes, Wilkerson is injured after breaking his leg in the 2015 season finale. Guess what? Kaepernick is injured, too.
Draft considerations – While the consensus top quarterback in the draft, Carson Wentz, threw for scouts and coaches in Fargo, N.D., on Thursday, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke worked out two pass rushers in Clemson, S.C.
This could mean nothing. The 49ers may have private sessions with Wentz and Cal quarterback Jared Goff in coming weeks.
But Baalke tends to shy away from quarterbacks. He’s been pulling the trigger on the 49ers’ draft since 2010 and has made 58 selections altogether. Two of them, Kaepernick and B.J. Daniels, a seventh rounder in 2013, were quarterbacks. Daniels has bounced around between quarterback and wide receiver and now is on the Texans’ roster.
The draft could play out a lot like the 2011 draft. Baalke selected a defensive player, Aldon Smith, seventh overall that year and then took a quarterback, Kaepernick, with his second selection.