The San Francisco 49ers have struggled considerably over the first seven weeks of the season, capped by an ugly home loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Coming off that horrible performance, chatter about Colin Kaepernick picked up steam over the weekend. FOX Sports NFL reporter Jay Glazer reported Kaepernick is "on an island" in the 49ers locker room. Glazer reported it was not a matter of players not liking him, but that he did not connect with a lot of people who would try and pick him back up.
It is not surprising Glazer would issue a statement about Kaepernick's popularity. After each and every loss, there have been grumblings about his popularity with players, they just have not been aired from the national media. While what Glazer reports is true, he is not necessary hearing the entire sentiment of the team.
Shortly after Glazer's report, Kyle McLorg of Bay Area Sports Guy reported a reported Aldon Smith-Nessa love triangle was contributing to Kaepernick's unpopularity in the locker room. This story had been floated on gossip sites shortly after Smith's final arrest with the 49ers. Since those gossip reports, Niners Nation has had credible sources come forward with insight on the issue. Apparently, since joining the Raiders, Smith has been openly telling his teammates (and anyone who will listen) the story is indeed true and it is one of the main reasons he had to be cut. However, it has been my impression he is airing the dirty laundry in part to gain some credibility with his new teammates, and trying to mitigate the countless mistakes he made while on with the 49ers' organization.
According to another source, Kaepernick is a very private guy. He will not engage with teammates about his personal life and he will not indulge in the locker room banter or speak about his relationship with Nessa. This issue, along with his performance on the field, has allegedly led some players to disconnect from Kaepernick altogether. It entered a grey area of personal life vs. professional life, so we had stayed away. As more information has come out however, it seems to be becoming a proverbial elephant in the room.
In spite of these reports, players have spoken out in Kaepernick's defense, offering him support. On Monday, Matt Maiocco reported Kaepernick has received a lot of support from key players, including Anquan Boldin. We know from watching the games, when Kaepernick is playing well, he is jovial on the sidelines. Those instances would not indicate the 49ers quarterback is "on an island", by himself. However, when the offense performs badly, Kaepernick is a bit reclusive and perhaps self quarantines as a way to deal with the loss. Kaepernick has a significant social media presence, and of course plenty of endorsement, but that belies a person who is relatively quiet in nature.
During the past few weeks, there have been rumblings of a locker room feud at a team meeting. Maiocco referenced it happening four weeks ago. A source told Niners Nation that a player stood up against Colin Kaepernick, and, as a result, another stood up in defense of Kaepernick. Glazer's report of players being unhappy and unwilling to connect with Kaepernick appear true, but there are others including team captains and veterans standing up for the 49ers quarterback. Needless to say, Kaepernick is not necessarily on an "island by himself," but I suspect from the vantage point of the players Glazer spoke with, they are unhappy with the performance and what appears to them as Kaepernick's apathy. We also have sources who stated apologies were exchanged and the team was ready to move on. Well, until the 49ers lost again.
This locker room "gossip" might normally not be a huge deal. However, Kaepernick's future as quarterback of the 49ers makes this a more significant issue. In weeks where we have seen Kaepernick struggle, Jim Tomsula gets questions about his status as the starting quarterback. Last week, Jim Tomsula got the questions again, and once again, he said, "Colin's our quarterback."
Last year, fans endured the roller coaster of leaks from the 49ers regarding Jim Harbaugh. And, while Tomsula appears to be unwilling to engage in a "quarterback controversy" as he put it, it should not surprise anyone who has watched this team for the past seven weeks, Kaepernick's job is on the line.
Colin Kaepernick possesses very little trade value. He is due $11.9 million in 2016, which is currently guaranteed for injury, and becomes fully guaranteed if he is on the roster on April 1. If the 49ers no longer believe in Kaepernick, who has been with the team five years, why would another team take on the risk? Chip Kelly might be the only coach crazy enough to roll the dice knowing the salary he would be bringing in.
At this point, Kaepernick's 2016 salary is only guaranteed for injury. This might start to explain some of the play calling, and why Kaepernick is not allowed to run or stand in the pocket long. That, along with a sub-par offensive line that cannot protect Kaepernick or give him an extra moment to process throws, shows the 49ers have no faith in their quarterback and are just trying to get through the year. The writing appears to be on the wall for Colin Kaepernick and his future with the 49ers. If the 49ers are indeed prepared to move on, it could very well lead to Kaepernick's benching to avoid injury before the season concludes.
Coaches and Kaepernick
Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images
But, let me take you back to the painful loss against Seattle which resulted in the infamous Jed York tweet. Last year, national media published numerous articles relating to the rift between Baalke and Harbaugh. Whatever drama was compounded with additional commentary stating Harbaugh had "lost the locker room." We now know, it was at that moment, Harbaugh would not coach the 2015 season.
Although parts of the stories had truth, national media reports were largely exacerbated to fit the agenda of the 49ers executives. They succeeded at telling the fans and media that Jim Harbaugh and staff were the explanation of the 49ers woes. And, although Harbaugh was the winningest coach in football, the entire coaching staff was fired at the conclusion of last season and replaced with company men.
None of us understood the mass firing of an extremely talented coaching staff, but we watched talented coaches sign elsewhere and 49ers players retiring in droves. Nonetheless, we did what fans do, we freaked out but continued to stand by our team and hope for the best.
It turns out the coaching staff departures reflect further in this story. One of Harbaugh's assistant coaches fired by Baalke and York recently came forward to Niners Nation. In short, he stated the offensive coaching staff wholeheartedly believed Kaepernick could get better after Super 47. They believed him to be everything fans hoped. But, after working with Kaepernick in the two seasons following the Super Bowl, they felt Kaepernick's production had peaked. He further stated, "it wasn't that Kaepernick couldn't read or couldn't make the throws, but he lacked the ability to trust his receivers to be there before he could see them." The explanation was not good enough for Jed York and Trent Baalke who felt the 49ers' downward spiral was not a result of personnel, but rather, coaching deficits.
This leaves the organization in a bad position. The 49ers have not yet benched their starting quarterback, but seemingly have no faith in that quarterback. Half a season removed from the last coaching staff, the 49ers front office seems to be getting the same story it got from former coaches. The old coaching staff got a whole lot more out of Kaepernick, and now things are spinning out of control.
Unfortunately last season, Jed York and Trent Baalke couldn't put their egos aside and evaluate the situation of the personnel from one bad year. Instead, they let their personal feelings of Jim Harbaugh and emotions determine the future of the 49ers organization. A season later, they seem significantly more reactive than proactive with this situation.
They say "history repeats itself." Well, welcome back to 2004.