Editor's Note: Here is the final installment of a five-part series on the 49ers’ top offseason priorities.
Coach Chip Kelly does not have contractual power over the 49ers’ 53-man roster, but there is little doubt he will play the leading role in deciding how the club approaches its situation at quarterback.
The first thing Kelly must determine is whether he wants to attempt to make it work with Colin Kaepernick.
Kelly and Kaepernick spoke shortly after Kelly was hired. Kelly gave no indication of his plan for Kaepernick during his only meeting with the media, a week after his hiring. Kelly cited non-existent CBA restrictions for not talking about Kaepernick. That approach was in contrast to what Kelly said about Nick Foles in January 2013 after becoming the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach: "I'm a huge fan of his."
Shortly after their brief encounter at the 49ers' practice facility in Santa Clara, Kaepernick traveled to Vail, Colorado, to resume his rehabilitation from shoulder, thumb and knee surgeries.
Clearly, the Kaepernick situation is the No. 1 issue the 49ers have to solve in the offseason. Here are the ways this can play out:
—Kelly determines he wants to work with Kaepernick, and he convinces the five-year veteran his best shot for a fresh start is with the new 49ers coaching staff. Right now, it’s pretty clear from multiple sources Kaepernick would like to resume his career elsewhere.
—Kelly believes it’s best to move Kaepernick to another team. Maybe there’s a team that is willing to pay Kaepernick his scheduled $11.9 million salary. If not, the 49ers can give Kaepernick permission to seek a trade and work out a restructured contract with another team before a trade is finalized. Trade talks could unofficially begin next week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
—If a trade seems unlikely, the 49ers and Kaepernick could reach a settlement in which the team releases him and is not on the hook for the $11.9 million, which is guaranteed for injury-only before April 1. The advantage for Kaepernick is that it would allow him to hit the open market much earlier in the offseason.
—Without some kind of settlement, the 49ers can hold onto Kaepernick longer into the offseason in hopes, either a) both sides become convinced a union will work; or b) quarterback-needy teams feel a sense of increased urgency in the offseason or training camp to acquire him.
Certainly, the 49ers are not going to enter next season with Blaine Gabbert as the unopposed starting quarterback. He might prove to be a good fit for a coach who values “repetitive accuracy” and athleticism from his quarterback. But whatever happens, if Gabbert is going to enter next season as the starter, he is going to have to earn it.
Sam Bradford, whom Kelly acquired in a blockbuster trade last year, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Even as Robert Griffin was struggling in 2014, the last time he saw the field, he completed 68.7 percent of his passes with an average of 7.9 yards per attempt. He is expected to come at a price far less expensive than Bradford. Kelly might want an up-close look at Griffin to see if his career can be salvaged.
Of course, the 49ers are likely to have a large portion of their quarterback situation figured out by the time the draft rolls around. But, regardless, we’ll mention Jared Goff (Cal), Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) and Paxton Lynch (Memphis) as possible choices at No. 7 overall. Vernon Adams (Oregon) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford) could be options in the mid-to-late rounds.