The Santa Clara soap opera has returned for season two, with the first act of this ongoing drama being focused on quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been under fire for reportedly being at the center of a divided 49ers locker.
Local and national outlets have reported that the controversy surrounding Kaepernick stems from issues in both his personal life and poor on-field play that has fueled heated — and supposedly even physical — altercations in the past few weeks.
The drama began with Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reporting on Sunday that Kaepernick was “on an island” in the 49ers locker room, with many players deciding not to stand behind the five-year veteran after a series of poor performances on the year.
More sordid details of Kaepernick’s supposed division in the locker room then came pouring in. A reported love triangle between the quarterback, former 49ers OLB Aldon Smith and HOT 97 host Nessa — as well as frustration amongst veterans due to his struggles on offense — was cited as a source of the fracture.
With the 49ers on the brink of implosion, head coach Jim Tomsula was first in line to try to stem the tide of media inquiry into his team’s dysfunction. And though Tomsula confirmed a heated players-only meeting between the team, he stated that he didn’t believe his quarterback was isolated amongst his peers:
“No, I would tell you right now I don’t see an island at all. I don’t. I see a lot of interaction. I see the guys interacting. I see the guys doing those things. … They felt a frustration there. I mean, we all did. I’m not going to lie about it. We had a tough stretch there and you get frustrated. What I don’t want is all that pent-up, then we start having boom, boom. So, I wanted to be in front of that before anything comes up in that way.”
Kaepernick himself was next up to combat the scrutiny that was being flung his way, dismissing all notions of division between himself and the rest of his team:
“I have a great relationship with my teammates. To me, that’s a situation that I don’t know what the agenda is saying that or what the credibility of that source is. I have a great relationship with my teammates and I’ll leave it at that.”
But reports continued to delve deeper into the discord, as two of the 49ers key offensive players — TE Vernon Davis and T Joe Staley — were said to have been at the center of a heated disagreement over the 49ers signal caller.
Jennifer Chan of Niners Nation would later report that the argument may have even become physical, striking a new low of dysfunction in the 49ers locker room.
Not surprisingly, the two players themselves have dismissed this notion, with Davis telling Bay Area reporters on Thursday that he doesn’t recollect ever being in an argument with Staley, and has never questioned his quarterback.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Davis was quoted as saying:
“I didn’t call Kap out. I don’t know where you got that from. I didn’t call Kap out at all. It’s not my job or my role to call Kap out. I’ll let the coaches do that. We’re all together. There’s nothing that can separate any of us. We’re inseparable, I would think. Me, Kap, Joe, we’re all on the same page. We’re captains. We’re leaders of the team. We have to stay together in order to make things happen. We rely on each other.”
Even with damage control, the drama amounts to yet another distraction for a struggling 49ers team that currently sits at 2-5, good for last place in the NFC West.
This week’s escapades mark the second year in a row that the 49ers have been the center of national scrutiny over a divisive locker room, with former head coach Jim Harbaugh being last year’s star of the show.
The 49ers ultimately got rid of Harbaugh, although it remains to be seen if San Francisco will do the same with Kaepernick.
The fifth-year slinger has done little to anchor his case as an non-expendable commodity, as he ranks 22nd in the NFL in passing yards while sporting a meager 82.8 passer rating through his first seven games. Kaepernick is on pace for career-lows in all categories while leading the NFL’s last-place offense.
Should the 49ers choose to move on from Kaepernick, the team would have an easy out, as he is only guaranteed his $11.9 million base salary in 2016 in the team keeps him on contract past April 1 of next year.
What was once an incentive-laden deal may very well come back to bite the struggling quarterback if the team finds themselves in the position to take one of next year’s top-rated quarterbacks in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Whether or not the 49ers decide to exile yet another scapegoat out of Santa Clara is just a sidebar to the real dysfunction occurring in the South Bay.
For the second straight season, reports of internal fighting and leaks — supposedly from the top of the organization — seem to threaten the job security of some of the franchise’s most important personnel.
Kaepernick’s poor performance shouldn’t be overlooked or simply forgiven, as he has failed to live up to his duties as a leader of a football team, and at times failed to look like an NFL caliber quarterback.
But more noteworthy is that yet another individual is being lined up to take the fall for organizational failure. Kaepernick is the new Harbaugh. The guy who was abrasive but showed he can win, given the right circumstances.
A failure in free agency left the 49ers weakened following an exodus of key players. A failure in draft selection — over multiple years — has left the team without viable internal options. And a failure in replacing a proven coaching staff has sunk what little chance the team had to compete.
Kaepernick is at the helm of this sinking ship, and that’s why he’s this year’s fall guy. It’s easier to pin the troubles on the guy who is struggling on the field, not sitting behind a desk.
Kaepernick will most likely be gone before the April deadline if he doesn’t turn his season around. It will be easier to discard him and sell the hope of a new start to the 49ers fan base.
And if San Francisco chooses to invest a high draft pick in a new and exciting quarterback — Jared Goff’s name has been thrown around quite frequently — then it may herald a new era in San Francisco.
But should the 49ers stumble through another bad season without Kaepernick, fresh names could again appear in Glazer’s next report of locker-room dissent. Two names that won’t likely be featured on that list: Jed York and Trent Baalke.