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.”