49ers Bench Colin Kaepernick Before Facing Falcons
By Burt Carey
Three years ago Colin Kaepernick was the dream quarterback the San Francisco 49ers had been looking for. He led the 9ers to their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years and came within a snap of winning. He nearly repeated the performance in 2013, taking the 49ers into the NFC championship game before a close loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
He hiccupped in 2014 – a sophomore jinx of sorts, or so we were to believe. It didn’t help that he was sacked 52 times during the season, a franchise record, as teams adjusted to his open, aggressive style of play.
The downward spiral that began last year continued in this new season. In eight games, Kaepernick has thrown for just six touchdowns against five interceptions. The 49ers, now 2-6, couldn’t manage a single touchdown in their last two games. One out of every four Kaepernick passes this season has been off target, the second-to-the-worst performance of all NFL signal callers. And a porous front line has allowed him to be sacked 28 times.
Tuesday the 49ers benched Kaepernick on his birthday. Such things happen when your team is 2-6 and facing the prospect of paying $16 million to a 28-year-old quarterback whose passer rating is 20 points lower than when he was 25.
The move suggests that the 49ers have tossed in the towel on the 2015 season. Replacing Kaepernick will be Blaine Gabbert, a former first-round draft pick who washed out of the Jacksonville Jaguars organization after amassing an underwhelming 5-22 career record.
What’s certain in the NFL is that players get benched, though typically not those who sign six-year contract extensions worth an estimated $126 million. Kaepernick was supposed to be the quarterback of San Francisco’s future. Sunday he’ll watch the 49ers face off with the 6-2 Atlanta Falcons from the sideline.
Following Sunday’s 27-6 loss to the St. Louis Rams, head coach Jim Tomsula told ESPN that the team would be evaluating everything. When pressed about whether Kaepernick’s job was on the line, Tomsula repeated that they would be evaluating everything.
Media reports and rumors swirled that Kaepernick’s teammates were voicing their displeasure with his performance. On Monday the 49ers traded veteran tight end Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos and word leaked out that Kaepernick would be benched.
Even long-time 49ers fans would find it difficult to argue against the move. Kaepernick was suffering through his worst season as a pro since being drafted out of the University of Nevada-Reno in 2011. The 49ers have the worst offense in the league, having scored just 109 points. After taking over at QB mid way through the 2011 season, Kaepernick went 19-7 as a starter in 2012 and 2013. Since then he’s just 10-14.
Unfortunately for Bay Area football fans, Gabbert hasn’t been any better. He played once last season, completing three of seven passes for 38 yards and a touchdown – the lone fourth-quarter TD pass recorded by the 49ers all season – in a game the Denver Broncos had well in hand. Gabbert did look good in the preseason, completing 23 of 28 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown.
The only question left now is what happens with Kaepernick after this season. His contract calls for $16.7 million in 2016 and $19.3 million in 2017. But the 49ers covered themselves for poor performance. They can cut him before April 1 and reap a salary-cap savings of $6.9 million.