April 1 is almost here, but it doesn’t appear to be the climactic date in Colin Kaepernick’s career it was long billed to be.
The 49ers quarterback’s $11.9 million base salary for 2016 will become fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster Thursday at 1 p.m. That’s the deadline the team has to file the transaction that would remove Kaepernick from the roster.
The 49ers have insisted they will keep Kaepernick beyond April 1, and they certainly have the salary-cap space – a league-high $53 million, according to the National Football League Players Association. Because he’s still recovering from injuries suffered in 2015, it’s unlikely the 49ers could avoid paying him that amount even if they cut him before the roster deadline.
Still, holding onto Kaepernick won’t remove him from the limbo he’s been in since the end of the 2015 season. Some questions:
Q: If Kaepernick is on the roster Thursday afternoon, does it ensure he’s on the roster for the start of the season?
A: No. The 49ers still can trade him and his existing contract. A more likely scenario: Kaepernick facilitates a trade by renegotiating his contract. The two teams most likely to be involved in a trade, the Broncos and Jets, have salary-cap issues and would want him to take a lower-money deal.
That’s the downside to making it known that he wants out of San Francisco: Potential suitors will try to use that to leverage him into taking less money to leave. By all accounts, Kaepernick is willing to renegotiate his contract, but perhaps not to the level that potential suitors want.
Q: If he’s on the roster Thursday afternoon, are the 49ers on the hook for $11.9 million no matter what?
A: No, not if they trade him. There’s also the possibility that, if Kaepernick truly wants out, the two sides reach an injury settlement and he is released. Everything is negotiable.
Q: Does Chip Kelly want Kaepernick?
A: “I’m a big Kap fan; I’d love to have him,” Kelly said earlier this month. Any incoming coach wants as many options as possible at the most important position on the team. In that way, Kelly surely would prefer to have Kaepernick on the roster.
But when he coached the Eagles, Kelly had little patience for players – including prominent players such as running back LeSean McCoy and guard Evan Mathis – who weren’t in lock-step with him and the organization. Kaepernick has been silent since the end of the season, but he easily could make things uncomfortable for Kelly and the 49ers.
Yes, Kelly has said he’s open to coaching Kaepernick this season. But he’s had an equal amount of praise for Blaine Gabbert. That is, Kelly might prefer two starter-caliber players in his offense but believes he can win with either one.
Q: If the 49ers are intent on keeping Kaepernick, why are they considering drafting a quarterback?
A: The 49ers have private workouts scheduled with at least three of the consensus top four quarterbacks in the upcoming draft: Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Connor Cook. It makes sense for them to at least thoroughly research these players even if they are truly committed to Kaepernick this season. After all, the year-to-year nature of Kaepernick’s contract would allow them to part ways relatively painlessly at this point next season. And Gabbert isn’t signed beyond this season. That is, the 49ers could use a young gun on the roster no matter the scenario.
Q: Can the 49ers trade Kaepernick for another player?
A: The Broncos and Jets rank at the bottom of the league with $1.6 million and $2.4 million worth of salary-cap space, respectively. Both teams need to make room – whether they take on Kaepernick or not – and could do so by trading a player.
The Broncos reportedly are trying to deal offensive tackle Ryan Clady, who is due $9.5 million this season and $10 million next. Clady, 29, tore his ACL in May and missed the 2015 season. The 49ers certainly could use help on the offensive line, but they need a guard more than a tackle and probably would be hesitant to take on Clady’s salary.
A more intriguing prospect might be the Jets’ Muhammad Wilkerson, whom the team franchised last month but who wants a long-term deal. Wilkerson, 26, also is coming off an injury – a broken leg – but is considered one of the top defensive linemen in the league.
To this point, however, all of the trade talks involving Kaepernick have been about potential draft picks.
Q: When will we hear trade rumblings involving Kaepernick again?
A: The Jets and Broncos both have been linked to free-agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw 31 touchdown passes for New York last year but who, as of now, wants more money than the Jets are offering.
If one of those teams sign him, the other will be short on options. Kaepernick’s name is bound to be raised again at that point.
Beyond that, the next spot for a potential trade is the April 28 draft. Teams will have a better idea about their quarterback situation – and whether they can land a starting quarterback in the draft – and general managers will be on the phone with one another going over potential trades in the run-up.