The San Francisco 49ers start training camp later next week, which means we’ll start to get some resolution on who will make the roster, and how the starting lineup will look come Week 1. As we come down this final stretch, I thought we’d go through some of the notable position competitions facing the 49ers in training camp. We’re going to focus primarily on starters, but we might mix in some pertinent reserve roles from time-to-time. We started things off with right tackle, inside linebacker, wide receiver, nickel back, backup running back, and the tight ends. We’ve pushed it off for long enough, and so, we move on to the quarterback position.
The incumbent(s): Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick
Gabbert took over the starting job midway through the season, thanks in part to Kaepernick struggling in a big way. Of course, we later learned that Kaepernick was dealing with a variety of injuries that did not help matters. You could make an argument Gabbert is the incumbent, but given my inclusion of two incumbents at right tackle and the one inside linebacker position, we’ll stick with it here.
The challengers: Jeff Driskel, Thad Lewis
The 49ers invested a sixth round pick in Driskel, and signed Eagkes free agent Lewis to a one-year deal. Lewis has the benefit of spending part of last season working with Chip Kelly. Driskel played in a spread offense at Louisiana Tech, and has a big arm. I highly doubt either claims the starting job, or even the backup job, but Driskel in particular is a guy the team could look to develop.
Leader in the clubhouse: Blaine Gabbert
Kaepernick spent most of the offseason workout program rehabbing his shoulder, thumb and knee injuries. He was starting to get some snaps during the three-day minicamp, but was not fully medically cleared. Gabbert got all the first team reps through OTAs, and 11-on-11 during minicamp. For now, that has him as the leader in my mind.
Contract implications: Gabbert is a free agent after this season, while Kaepernick remains on his “year-to-year” contract. His base salary is guaranteed for 2016, while his 2017 salary is guaranteed for injury. If he is on the roster next April 1, that year’s salary becomes fully guaranteed. The next five months will determine if we’re doing the same trade rumor or cut him dance next spring.
Wild card: A Colin Kaepernick trade is unlikely at this point, but I can’t imagine it is 100 percent off the table. If Kaepernick is cleared for camp, maybe something happens. I think it’s unlikely, but that’s why we’ll call it the wild card.
Way too early prediction: Blaine Gabbert wins the starting job, and barring injury, Colin Kaepernick does not start for the 49ers in 2016. If Gabbert wins the job, I find myself wondering if the 49ers deactivate Kaepernick all 16 games to prevent a situation where he goes on in relief of Gabbert, gets hurt, and his 2017 salary becomes guaranteed. If he loses the job, odds are pretty good he’s eventually cut or traded in the 2017 offseason, so I don’t see them risking an injury if that is how training camp plays out.