The San Francisco 49ers ended their weekend on a positive note Sunday, defeating the Chicago Bears 26-20, and it was quite the weekend for two of the team's quarterbacks. Blaine Gabbert had a couple huge plays in the 49ers win, and Colin Kaepernick was in the news due to some well-timed leaks to national media. We'll have plenty more on all of this, but I thought why not drop some raw meat in here and combine them together for one article?
Blaine Gabbert's performance
Gabbert had the 44-yard touchdown run and 71-yard touchdown pass late in the game to help the 49ers secure the victory. The 49ers benefited tremendously from Bears miscues, but we can't discount Gabbert's plays. He finished the game 18 of 32 for 196 yards and one passing touchdown, to go along with 75 rushing yards and one touchdown.
David Neumann will have a film breakdown later this week, but in the meantime, Gregor Bozic put together this chart of Gabbert's pass attempts:
Gabbert completed one pass longer than ten yards, and that fortunately came at a slightly opportune time. To take this a step further, he only completed two other passes that went more than five yards in the air. His legs proved critical on the game-tying touchdown drive. After a six-yard sack to open the drive, Gabbert completed a ten yard pass to Anquan Boldin, scrambled for nine yards, threw an incomplete pass, scrambled seven yards, and then scrambled 44 yards for the touchdown.
The passing remains an issue through some combination of play-calling and execution. David will have a better look at that, but I do want to talk about Gabbert's maneuverability. Once he would get out In the open field, I don't know that there is a single active quarterback who could do what Colin Kaepernick could do. His huge stride made it easy to turn on an extra gear and get upfield. The problem for Kap was his maneuvering in tight quarters. While Gabbert lacks the same huge stride out in the open field, he has shown in four starts that he is very good at maneuvering in and out of the pocket and picking up the short gains.
This has been big for a team that has question marks along the offensive line. One of my worries about Gabbert was how he would handle the inevitable pressure coming against a bad offensive line. Gabbert has benefited at times from a cleaner pocket, but when it does break down, he has done some strong work moving around to either scramble or pass.
Colin Kaepernick's future
Speaking of Kaepernick, it was a busy period in the hours leading up to the game. Both Adam Schefter and Ian Rapoport reported on the 49ers front office having discussions with Kaepernick about his future:
49ers and Colin Kaepernick met last week and team expressed it’s open to bringing him back, per sources. Door not closed on return to SF.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 6, 2015
#49ers QB Colin Kaepernick sat down with GM Trent Baalke this week & discussed, among other things, FA targets for 2016. Kap in their plans— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 6, 2015
Given the leaking that was happening prior to that, this latest news reads like CYA time, and the 49ers looking to do some damage control. I don't doubt that Trent Baalke (or whomever) has opportunities to chat with Colin Kaepernick while he is at the facility doing rehab every day. And maybe they have had some friendly chats about the future. Whether they have or not, I still don't see Colin Kaepernick sticking around after this year.
There are a variety of ways the situation can go down, and leaking these kind of reports might be a way to massage his trade value. Tim Kawakami went into a variety of possible outcomes, and the control Kap could exert in this situation. Even with a huge amount of cap room, I can't imagine the 49ers will be willing to carry a $15.8 million cap hit in 2016. If they legitimately want to keep Kap, it will require some kind of restructuring. And trading Kap would probably also require some kind of restructuring. This would seem to provide Kaepernick a chance to dictate terms to some degree. The team could just then release him and he gets nothing, but it also would give him the freedom to sign wherever he wants. He might decide that unrestricted freedom is the best situation for him. We'll find out as April 1 approaches.
One of the more pertinent question right now for 49ers fans has to be what happens with Blaine Gabbert after this season? He is signed through the 2016 season, with a cap hit of $2.25 million. He's not going anywhere, but the bigger question is if he will be the 49ers starting quarterback when Week 1 of the 2016 season arrives. My guess right now is yes, but we don't know what the draft or free agency will bring. I think the 49ers do draft a quarterback, but it is possible Gabbert does enough by season's end that the team decides to wait for the middle rounds to draft the position.
There are two reasons the 49ers could wait. The first is they might win too many games to be high enough for a Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch. There are five months until the draft, so we don't know where those two, and others, will end up situated on draft boards, but the 49ers could slide out of the top ten entirely with a couple more wins.
The second reason is that if Gabbert continues to perform like he has, Trent Baalke might decide it is just not worth the high investment of a first round pick, if one of those quarterbacks was available. Gabbert has shown he has improved from his Jacksonville days. Whether he is a long-term answer for the 49ers remains to be seen. I think he could be a decent option with an improved offensive line and more seasoned defense, but I don't know how much more than that he can be. Maybe he shows us even more over the final four games, or maybe not. Who knows. But these final four games will dictate a lot as the 49ers prepare for an offseason that will feature a lot of draft capital, and a ton of cap space.