Key factors that will determine where Kaepernick plays in 2017

Key factors that will determine where Kaepernick plays in 2017

CHICAGO – Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers got what they wanted from a restructured contract the sides negotiated in October.

Kaepernick is allowed to opt out of his contract after this season. And the 49ers are not financially obligated to pay his 2017 salary if he sustains an injury that lingers past April 1.

Kaepernick, who requested permission to seek a trade, was always expected to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Even if he did not opt out, the 49ers would be expected to release him, anyway.

“Organizations at the end of the season go through and evaluate personnel and opportunities,” Kaepernick explained in June why he asked for permission to seek a trade. “That was something, I sat down with my team and did the same thing. That’s how we handled the business.”

The NFL Network on Sunday reported what had been known all along: Kaepernick plans to opt out the contract at the end of the season.

But this move – or if the 49ers release Kaepernick – does not rule out his return to the 49ers in 2017.

There are several unknown factors that will determine where Kaepernick plays next season:

--What will the market be for Kaepernick?

The 49ers and Denver Broncos had a deal worked out for Kaepernick last offseason. But the Broncos would only follow-through if Kaepernick agreed to take his guaranteed salary of $11.9 million down to $7 million annually over the next two years.

It’s likely the Broncos will no longer be interested. If they go after a veteran quarterback, Tony Romo would be expected to top the list. There are teams that likely will need a quarterback, such as Cleveland, Chicago and the New York Jets.

But it’s not known if ownership in those cities will step in over concerns about upsetting the team’s fan base with the acquisition of Kaepernick, who has been the NFL's most-polarizing figure this season due to his decision to protest racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem.

--Over the past four games, Kaepernick is playing at a level that would suggests he should be a starter in the NFL next season. If it’s just a football decision, he would either be competing for a starting job or – at the very least – be a top backup.

There is a lot of instability with the 49ers. If general manager Trent Baalke is back with the 49ers, it seems unlikely Kaepernick would want to come back.

Kaepernick's dissatisfaction with the 49ers last year led to him seeking a way out. He thought his team-friendly contract, which was low on guaranteed money, would allow the 49ers to keep the nucleus on their roster intact. Instead, the roster was overhauled.

Also, there were reports last year, which Kaepernick’s camp believe the 49ers leaked, that he wore his headphones around the team facility and closed himself off to teammates and did not spend as much time watching film as Blaine Gabbert.

--But if Baalke is fired at the end of the season and coach Chip Kelly is retained, it very well could be that the best place for Kaepernick will be back with the 49ers to establish some continuity.

Kelly said this week that he has not gotten involved in any of the contract discussions with Kaepernick, who recently placed his San Jose house on the market.

“I don’t deal with contracts,” Kelly said. “So, that wasn’t an issue. As I’ve said with everything, even the stuff when we first got there is when he’s with us it’s all football. If there’s a business thing. That’s between him and his agent and the front office. But that’s not something that we’ve ever had a discussion about.”

It appears Kelly and Kaepernick have a solid relationship. Kaepernick appears more comfortable running a system that accentuates his skillset.

“The relationship we have is great,” Kelly said. “We talk football and I really enjoy coaching him. He works extremely hard. He really wants to be great and works at it from that standpoint. So all that other stuff, I think he does a really good job of leaving that outside the door and we never really discuss it because that’s really not what our relationship is about.”

Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season


Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season

Frank Gore is returning home to, in all likelihood, finish his professional football career.

Gore, 34, signed a one-year contract to enter his 14th NFL season with his hometown Miami Dolphins, the team announced Friday.

Gore grew up in Coconut Grove, Florida, and attended Coral Gables High School before playing collegiately at the University of Miami.

He played the first 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers and is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards – just 75 yards behind No. 4 Curtis Martin.

After rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns with the 49ers, the club declined to offer him a multi-year contract following the 2014 season. Gore played the past three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Gore remains one of the most popular players in 49ers history. When asked recently if he would be willing to “retire” as a member of the 49ers after his final game, Gore reacted enthusiastically about the possibility.

1, Emmitt Smith 18,355
2, Walter Payton 16,726
3, Barry Sanders 15,269
4, Curtis Martin 14,101
5, Frank Gore 14,026

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”