If you wanted to try and pinpoint the game that changed the narrative on Colin Kaepernick’s young NFL career – he rose higher than Robert Griffin III, but hasn’t quite fallen as far … yet – it’s fairly easy: January 20th, 2014. Thirteen months after quarterbacking the 49ers within a play of a Super Bowl ring, the 49ers led the Seahawks 17-10 in the 4th quarter in Seattle of the 2014 NFC Championship game.
Through three quarters, Kaepernick was sublime – throwing a touchdown and rushing for over 100 yards, including a gazelle-like 58-yard gallop against an impenetrable defense. And then he melted down in the 4th quarter: A fumble and two interceptions, including the memorable one in the end zone that made Richard Sherman very popular and very wealthy, and ended a brilliant 3-year run for Harbaugh’s 49ers. San Francisco’s 2014 season was ruined due to a tug-of-war between Harbaugh the team’s GM, and the coach was fired at season’s end.
Kaepernick hasn’t been the same since that loss in Seattle. Neither have the 49ers. He started 30 games in 2012 and 2013 – and incredibly beat the Packers twice in the playoffs, including once in Lambeau – but it feels like none of that matters now. The following names who were pivotal to the offense during that period have left the organization: Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, tackle Anthony Davis (part of the #1 rated offensive line in 2012) and guard Mike Iupati.
Kaepernick’s left – for now – and even though he shared the accolades with Harbaugh and the defense when the 49ers thrived, he’s the only one taking a pounding now. In the summer of 2014, the QB signed a lucrative 6-year, $126 million contract with $61 million guaranteed. The media never embraced Kaepernick – tattoos, hat backwards, silly stuff – and fans gravitated toward his NFC West rival, clean-cut Russell Wilson. In the summer of 2015, Kaepernick’s name began to surface in trade talks. After two ugly losses early in the 2015 season, he’s approaching rock bottom.
“The 49ers have to look for a QB in the draft or free agency,” former Washington Redskins GM Charley Casserly told The Big Lead. “I don’t think Colin Kaepernick is the answer.”
The new way we talk about sports: Knee-jerk reactions on social media. You’re only as good as your last pass, your last drive, your last game. Last year? Doesn’t matter. Two years ago? Yeah, well what have you done for me lately? Forget about diving into what might be wrong, or if the problems are fixable – let’s get that player/coach out of there and bring in a new one.
After the 49ers were trampled by the Cardemnals Sunday, a game emn whemch Kaepernemck was terremble (9-of-19, 67 yards and four emnterceptemons, emncludemng two pemck-semxes emn the 1st quarter), San Francemsco coach Jemm Tomsula was asked about hems faemth emn hems QB. We’re emn week three.
“It looks like the decision-making and accuracy on a consistent basis are not clicking,” the former Director of Pro Personnel of the Philadelphia Eagles, Louis Riddick, said in a phone call this week. “I’m starting to feel the same way about Colin as I do RGIII. You never want that to be the case. The game against Arizona was terrible. I’m watching saying, ‘Colin, are you blind?'”
Colin Kaepernick turns 28 in November.
Were the flaws that are on display now – the happy, unsettled feet in the pocket appear to be the primary culprit – simply masked by an elite offensive line, powerful running game, a tight end in his prime, and that formidable defense?
“They need more,” Riddick, who is an analyst at ESPN, said. “You’d like to see them have a #1 receiver. Anquan is on the back nine of his career. Vernon hasn’t been the same for years. But you can’t just chalk it up to weapons.”
So it’s a confluence of things, right? Losing two elite offensive lineman can’t help. After two low-sack seasons in 2012 and 2013, Kaepernick was dropped 52 times by opposing defenses in 2014.
“Right now that offensive line is playing the poorest it’s played since he’s been there,” said Casserly, who is an analyst at the NFL Network. “Teams are rushing Kaepernick now, and he’ll freeze, like a deer in the headlights. The players around him aren’t as good, but to me he’s the same guy. His ability to sit in the pocket and read defenses wasn’t real good then, and isn’t real good now.”
Coming out of Nevada in 2011, Kaepernick was proficient in operating out of the pistol formation and running the zone read offense, but accuracy and touch on his passes were the two big question marks. (You should take a look at Daniel Jeremiah’s pre-draft write-up. Note the last line: “I don’t see him as an NFL starter.”) Has Kaepernick developed in reading defenses?
A former member of the 49ers front office who knows Kaepernick well, doesn’t seem the least bit concerned with these early-season struggles, telling The Big Lead, “How do you solve the offensive line and wide receiver issues with a coaching staff that’s been together for less than a year? A lot more things have to happen before you hit the panic button.”
This source, who didn’t want to be quoted by name, was actually defensive of Kaepernick’s early struggles: “Did Matt Stafford regress in Detroit when they had changes? Ask the Giants what their record was at the halfway point the last time they won the Super Bowl.”
This, of course, ties back into the knee-jerk nature of the media right now.
But you know what’s not knee-jerk? The idea that the 49ers could trade Kaepernick. The team needs help at many positions, and does it really make sense to trot out an expensive QB with poor blocking and limited weapons, while fielding a defense so deficient in the secondary?
Said Riddick: “If I were in a front office, hell yeah we’d be having internal discussions about possibly prying him out of there. In a system where you could utilize him as a dual threat, definitely.”
It doesn’t appear the 49ers offense is capable of running that type of offense now, and trying to turn him into a pocket passer at this stage in his career might take a few years.
So who runs a lot of pistol formations and needs a QB?
“The personality of the QB has to fit who is coaching that team,” said the former 49ers front office member. “Look at all the QBs Chip Kelly has tried to fit in his system. He’s still trying to get the right fit. Why would you think Foles or Bradford would be a fit for the spread? Come on. If there’s a guy that would fit, it’s Colin Kaepernick.”