The NFL’s most controversial figure continues to ride the bench in 2016, but that might not be the case for much longer. The San Francisco 49ers could soon be forced to start Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.
Blaine Gabbert was selected as the team’s starter in the preseason, but he’s been so bad through five games that San Francisco will have to consider making a change. After the team dropped to 1-4 with a 33-21 loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, head coach Chip Kelly would not commit to keeping Gabbert as the starting quarterback.
“I think we’re going to look at everything. We’re 1-4,” Kelly told reporters after Thursday’s game. “We got to make sure we’re going out there and giving us the best chance to win. So we’re going to look at everything.”
Gabbert was competent in the 49ers’ 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams in the season opener, but it’s been all downhill for the quarterback and San Francisco, who haven’t won since. Gabbert has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and his 69.6 passer rating ranks 31st among 32 starters. Twenty-two quarterbacks have thrown for more yards than Gabbert, even though they’ve all played one fewer game.
Gabbert hasn’t had any success since being drafted in 2011, going 9-31 as a starter. It’s clear that he’s not the answer for San Francisco, and the 49ers have few football-related reasons to keep him in the lineup.
The longer Kaepernick remains on the bench, the longer fans and media members alike will wonder if it is because of his national anthem protest that’s become a topic of conversation since the preseason. The 49ers have publicly been supportive of Kaepernick, but it makes little sense to keep him on the sidelines in favor of Gabbert.
If Kaepernick does get the chance to start, he likely won’t turn San Francisco into a contender. He had a 78.5 passer rating in eight starts last year before an injury ended his season, and he missed time this preseason with what was described as a “dead arm.”
But unlike Gabbert, Kaepernick has had success at one point in his career, leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl four years ago. He was once considered one of the league’s best young quarterbacks, making two straight NFC Championship Game appearances and totaling a career-high 25 touchdowns in 2013.
Some will point to Kaepernick’s $14.5 million salary for 2017, which becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster on April 1, claiming that the team doesn’t want to risk him getting injured. But San Francisco will likely cut the quarterback before that day even comes.
Kaepernick was voted as the league’s most disliked player earlier this season, but the fans in San Francisco seem to want a change at quarterback. A “We want Kaep!” chant broke out at Thursday’s game as Gabbert led the 49ers to a fourth consecutive loss.
Kelly has over a week to make a decision. San Francisco’s next game is on Oct. 16 against the Buffalo Bills.