Franchise quarterbacks are at both times a representation of strength and stability and a completely finicky thing. Peyton Manning is the franchise quarterback of the Denver Broncos, but that didn't stop Gary Kubiak from having to field questions about potentially benching his 39-year-old quarterback even as the team sat at 5-0 earlier this season.
Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck are the franchise quarterbacks of their respective teams, but particularly sloppy play this year has led to suggestions that either could be benched. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had such a shoddy game that Twitter was talking about Sean Renfree warming up on the sidelines.
Do you know who Manning's backup is? It's Brock Osweiler, and real, actual people suggested he should get some looks as Manning looked depleted earlier this season. I knew who Stafford's backup was when I started this article, but forgot by the time I made it to this sentence. But all of those guys have had questionable play this season, and the talk of benching them has always been real.
Then again ... benching in a game situation and benching before an upcoming game are two entirely different things and this is where it gets very complicated for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
None of us can know with certainty what the deal is with Kaepernick, how the 49ers organization has treated him since he took over as starter and received his contract extension, and none of us know what the future holds for him. But I can't think of many situations where a franchise quarterback, owning a nice contract like Kaepernick, was benched outside of a game before re-taking his job and bouncing back.
If Jim Caldwell benches Stafford after he throws three interceptions, the implication isn't that Stafford is going to sit the next game. The implication is that Stafford is going to sit on the bench, think about how he's already lost this game and the message the coaching staff is trying to send him: Do better. Protect the football. We need you to be better than everyone else.
That quarterback is going to go out there again, and recognize that he is definitely on a leash but one that means he gets second chances. Stafford lives to throw another day. Ryan survives as well. Manning was never in danger, and Brian Hoyer weeps silently to himself.
When a quarterback is benched leading up to a game, the message is also very clear: We don't think we can win with you under center. Sorry, but we had a good run.
If you don't think that's the case, I understand. My word isn't law, and if I had a living disclaimer it would be that I'm a pessimist, wrong often and may occasionally burst out into singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" at literally any moment. My doctors are looking into the last thing.
But I just don't see any rosy future in which Kaepernick sits for a week, understands what went wrong, and then takes over again. Sure, the future where Gabbert Is even worse than Kaepernick and the 49ers go back to him as though that was always the plan can certainly exist, but as far as I'm concerned, the die has been cast. The fate is sealed, and the 49ers have spoken. Kaepernick is damaged goods and his future in San Francisco is murky at best and absolutely over at worst.
I'm just not sure how he could ever bounce back from this. If anybody feels differently, I'd love to hear why. But for now, we shouldn't be talking about who let who down and whether or not Kaepernick agrees with Jim Tomsula's decision to bench him. We should be wondering what's next, because that picture doesn't include Kaepernick.