Ah yes, the familiar smell of burning denim coming from Santa Clara. It’s been a while since the 49ers looked like one of the most troubled sports franchises in the United States, but last night brought back recent memories they spent last offseason trying to bury.
Yes, a lot of that is due to this new made-for-the-election-cycle controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s actions during the national anthem. However, if we’re going to “stick to sports,” his decision to make a statement does nothing but gloss over how the team’s quarterback situation will hold them back until it’s finally remedied. And that won’t happen for a while.
On that note, let’s go through the list of amazing things that happened last night!
They started Blaine Gabbert
This telegraphed what we’ve known all along: Gabbert was unquestionably the team’s starting quarterback for weeks (months?), despite what Chip Kelly said about staging an open competition. It didn’t help the competition that Kaepernick’s arm got tired or whatever, and continuing to write about Gabbert’s stranglehold on the position seems repetitive, but a lot of people were excited about the prospect of Kaepernick mastering Kelly’s offense — after a few weeks of sporadicly practicing it — and reviving his career.
In true Gabbert fashion, the blond starter went three-and-out on his first drive. He threw one bad pass (overthrowing a wide open Quinton Patton deep down the middle of the field) and a couple OK ones, led the team on one touchdown drive that didn’t force him to leave his comfort zone, and generally looked less than dynamic. On the positive side, he was better than the guy who replaced him.
The end is near for Colin Kaepernick
Like Gabbert, Kaepernick passed for 14 yards. Except it took Kaepernick twice as many attempts to get there, as he finished 2-for-6 (two passes were batted down, and the completions weren’t especially glorious) and led the team to just one first down in three drives. Granted, Dom Capers sent the house at Kaepernick, who embarrassed him with epic playoff performances on multiple occasions.
That version of Kaepernick, the Packer-slaying, record-slaying Kaepernick, is gone. He will never return. Not with the 49ers, anyway.
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) August 27, 2016
Then, it was learned after the game that he didn’t stand for the national anthem. Apparently he hasn’t stood for the Star Spangled Banner in any of the team’s three preseason games this month, but no one noticed before because he wasn’t in uniform.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
There’s no point in getting political here. Those who believe the constitution allows for expressions such as this one won’t be swayed, nor will people who think what Kaepernick did went beyond unpatriotic and entered the realm of blatant disrespect. Then there are the white supremacists who see this as the perfect time to hurl racist epithets at Kaepernick (warning: don’t click the link if you don’t want to see disgusting, hateful language).
The 49ers issued an intelligent, balanced statement on Kaepernick’s decision, considering how unsurprising it would’ve been had they denounced him (keep in mind that the NFL promotes the military more than any league, other than maybe MLB).
“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
After the game, Jeremy Newberry (the former 49ers linemen who now works as an agent for Octagon Sports) explained to Dennis O’Donnell why it’s possible that Colin Kaepernick will soon be released. Newberry’s logic made sense. If Kaepernick isn’t good enough to play now, why would the 49ers want to make him a backup? Sure, paying him $11 million+ this season and waving goodbye sounds crazy. But if he stays, he could possibly get injured again, putting the team in a position where they’d also have to pay eight figures next season to a quarterback who lost his team a year ago — when he threw two pick-sixes against the Cardinals and Tyrann Mathieu called him out for being a football simpleton.
The 49ers either hoped Kaepernick would regain his footing as an NFL quarterback, or (perhaps more likely) another team would suffer one or more injuries to its quarterbacks and desperately seek a trade. It seems obvious now that neither scenario will take place, and now another nightmare will unfold, as talking heads from Seattle to Miami will seize upon Kaepernick’s no-stand stance and create a firestorm of hot takes.
So, even though Kaepernick holds next to no relevance from a football perspective as far as the 49ers are concerned, releasing him now would throw them into the hot take microwave for all the wrong reasons yet again. The last thing they want to do is pay Kaepernick any more than they absolutely have to, but the second-to-last thing they want is to allow Kaepernick to look like the a victim or some sort of social justice champion, or appear intolerant themselves with a termination that could appear retaliatory.
However, there’s no way they want to have Kaepernick be the team’s backup and have cameras seek him out during every national anthem this season. If he stays on this team, the chances are very good that he’ll either be on some sort of injury list or will be a healthy inactive each week.
In actual football news …
- Carlos Hyde suffered a concussion
- Bruce Ellington left the game due to injury (shocker), as did Quinton Dial
- The Packers held a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession (39:29 to 20:31)
- Torrey Smith: zero catches … for the entire preseason
No, these aren’t your parents’ Niners.
— Jerry Rice (@JerryRice) August 27, 2016
I’m not bashing the Niners . It throws the timing off #norhythm . Great players need chemistry and timing!!!!!
— Jerry Rice (@JerryRice) August 27, 2016
It’s not all bad. The offensive line depth is much better now than a year ago, and despite Arik Armstead not playing again (the 49ers keep downplaying his absence, but he was raw last year and definitely could’ve used the game reps this month), the defensive line appears to be getting better. Tank Carradine could save Trent Baalke’s job if he breaks out this season. The secondary could be decent as well. This team won’t score a ton of points, but upgrading the head coach and o-line from “embarrassing” could lead to a win or two more than the Vegas lines would indicate.
This Kaepernick national anthem thing will blow over, too. Yes, not standing for America’s favorite pregame ritual is the same action for which Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is most known to this day. But in our Twitter/Facebook/Snapchat culture, every controversy burns REALLY hot and dies down REALLY quickly, usually within 48-72 hours. The long-term problem is much more daunting for the 49ers, who are stuck with Gabbert as the starter, Kaepernick as the pariah, and nothing much other than pie-in-the-sky hopes for Jeff Driskel to tide everyone over until the NFL Draft.