The next step in the end of the Colin Kaepernick Era has been taken, so everyone raise a stein and salute the death of the king.
Kaepernick was named the starting quarterback for Sunday’s 49ers game against Buffalo, the apparent end of several days of whirlwind negotiations over a restructured contract that would make it easier for York.co to endure an injury to him.
In other words, it is now financially (if not exactly medically) safe for Kaepernick to be thrown to the last 11 sets of wolves on the 49ers schedule.
In other other words, Kaepernick has made it possible for the team to play him without worrying about the catastrophic injury that would keep him on the payroll in 2017 as the world’s most expensive backup quarterback.
Because that, after all, is the real reason the 49ers exist, the real reason you as a fan pay attention them, or go to their games, or buy their $95 sweatshirts – so that they can look at the payroll during this freefall and feel less constricted by the tens of millions in cap space they seem so loath to use.
You see, the dirty little non-secret here is that Kaepernick’s insertion solves two problems, neither of them steps forward in the team beginning its climb out of the sinkhole they’ve made of their on-field operation.
For one, Kaepernick is the answer to the question, “Who’s the best quarterback on the roster not named Blaine Gabbert?” That’s been the one subject people have fixated upon since the season started – the quarterback as the most obvious reason the 49ers have their richly deserved 1-4. This continues the decades-old perception that football analysis is really the reductio ad absurbum of one person and 21 mules, and utterly misses the real truth about football – that a quarterback thrives only when he has a running game, an offensive line that can both run- and pass-block, a set of receivers who can catch difficult passes, and a set of plays that maximize their talents as a unit.
The rebuttal to this argument, of course, is, “But the quarterback is what people want to talk about,” which is sufficient reason to ignore the easily perceived facts as they present themselves to us on a weekly basis.
And this is not a defense of Blaine Gabbert by any means. He did not overcome his surroundings by any means, and under normal circumstances wouldn’t have started to begin with.
And the second problem he solves is hastening the end of the Harbaugh Hangover that grips the big offices. He was Jim Harbaugh’s chosen path to Super Bowl success, victories too numerous to count, massive salary increases, a legacy to encroach upon that of Bill Walsh (the last man to save this franchise from clue-deficient ownership) and an entire franchise at his feet. And let’s not discount the levels of lunacy that engendered in both sides of that little team-destabilizing spit-fest.
Kaepernick will finish out his 49er career trying to play lead Band-aid on a wound that isn’t so easily cauterized. The 49ers are still what they have revealed themselves to be – a 1-4 team, and starting Kaepernick makes little difference than starting Gabbert, or Christian Ponder. The team has no plan to retain Kaepernick for 2017, and is probably frightened that he will play just well enough to force them to bring him back healthy while they search for a better quarterback that the colleges don’t seem to be offering.
In that way, the much-discussed owner-friendly contract Kaepernick signed has become a choke chain around their necks ever since, and the Fightin’ Yorks have been revealed as a cash-first, win-second operation – a team run for the comfort of the business expertise of the owner rather than the satisfaction of the players and coaches and joy of the fan base.
This isn’t the cheery development 49ers fans want this to be. They want some time to celebrate Gabbert’s demotion and dream of the 10-6 record, the playoff berth, the improbable postseason upsets and the parade that hasn’t happened in 22 years that Anybody But Gabbert could mean – except, of course, for those fans who rather than 49ers used Joe Staley, Al Guido or a really clever spaniel as quarterback rather than the notorious anthem-kneeler, social critic and pot-stirrer, vegan fifth-columnist and possible spy.
Because, hey, when you’re going to stereotype someone with an idea that bothers your own ritualized preconceptions, Ruth Bader Who Asked You, you may as well throw deep.
But let’s keep this to the football, because that’s what this move actually is about, more or less, give or a take a few million in future money that the team would spend on not spending. After all, with the post-Harbaugh 49ers, you come to expect the brightly wrapped present with the credit card bill taped to the ribbon. The Raiders, the team that seems to have figured this football thing out, must look at Tuesday’s news and laugh sardonically, having lived through these false quarterback choices for more than a decade.
These aren’t the Raiders. These are the 49ers, trying to spruce up a chemical factory explosion by calling it a ritual bonfire for the whole family. If that’s their idea of fun, swell, and if you think exchanging Gabbert for Kaepernick is a corner-turning experience, fine again.
Mostly, what it seems to be is swapping out a pair of ill-fitting brown shoes for a pair of ill-fitting cordovan shoes of the same size. They still hurt your feet, but at least they look different when you take them out of the closet.