As of Thursday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers have submitted no roster transactions to the league offices, making Colin Kaepernick‘s $11.9 million contract fully guaranteed for the 2016 season.
Thursday’s move — or lack thereof — is just one more sign that the 49ers are intent on keeping their former star quarterback around in an effort to turn around his career under head coach Chip Kelly’s offensive system.
Kaepernick’s future with the team has been muddled since his demotion from starter after a poor eight games last season. The former second-round pick’s agents had sought permission from the 49ers to seek a trade this offseason, drawing interest from the Denver Broncos, the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets according to reports.
However, no deal was made since the 49ers valued Kaepernick at a higher level than those of his suitors- with the team apparently seeking a second-round draft pick as compensation. With the Broncos signing Mark Sanchez, and Robert Griffin III heading to Cleveland, Kaepernick’s market value has all but dried up.
Although San Francisco can still trade Kaepernick, his fully guaranteed salary may ward off those still in the hunt, unless Kaepernick himself agrees to restructure his contract.
But despite the ongoing trade talks, Kelly reiterated his desire to keep Kaepernick on the roster last week at the NFL owner’s meetings, telling Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area:
“We want him. I really would love to work with him. I think he understands that…I think he knows that I would love to have him.”
General manager Trent Baalke echoed Kelly’s sentiments of looking forward to working with the athletic quarterback, going on to say that the allowance of Kaepernick’s agents to engage in trade talks were designed in good faith as the front office attempts to repair the rocky relationship with the signal caller.
“I think sometimes it helps players. … It gives them a chance to see what their options really are. And it also gives us a chance to say ‘We didn’t hold you back from doing anything.’ This is new for everybody.”
Ultimately, the 49ers hold Kaepernick’s right’s until the 2020 season after he signed a team-friendly, 6-year $114 million contract in the 2014 season. And while the team may continue to explore trade avenues, Kelly stated that the 49ers have no intention of simply cutting him should he continue to want out of Santa Clara.
“(It’s) not even in the conversation. I don’t think you cut talent.”
The quarterback’s $11.9 base pay won’t be a tough pill for the 49ers to swallow in terms of salary, as the team has done little with their current league-leading cap space this offseason.
Kaepernick will now enter his first camp since the 2013 season where he is not the clear cut starter for the 49ers. His primary competition will be QB Blaine Gabbert, who took over for Kaepernick for the remaining eight games of the 2015 season.
Gabbert went on to complete 178-of-282 passes for 2,031 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions during that span. He lead the 49ers to a 3-5 record which saw them end the campaign with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Kaepernick’s competition may become even more stiff should the 49ers decide to use their pick on one of the top-ranked quarterback prospects in the draft that include Carson Wentz and Cal’s Jared Goff.
San francisco got another look at Goff on Wednesday, holding a private workout for the former Cal star in Berkeley after he impressed during his pro day.
The 49ers now look to April 4, for the start of the offseason program. Although San Francisco has seen a number of holdouts over the past few years- including those from TE Vernon Davis and G Alex Boone– it appears unlikely that Kaepernick will join their ranks, as he’d forfeit a sizable $400,000 workout bonus in doing so.
The Kaepernick saga is likely long from being over however, as trade talks will almost certainly continue. The NFL draft could open up intense negotiations again as well, as teams seek to gain picks and fill needs that they may not have been able to address either during or after the event that runs from April 28-30.