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Colin Kaepernick was the first quarterback Jim Harbaugh handpicked after he was hired as 49ers coach in 2011.
And with Harbaugh’s future with the 49ers beyond this season in serious doubt, how that uncertainty might impact Kaepernick leads off this edition of 49ers Mailbag:
Do you think Kap’s career with 49ers is tied to Harbaugh’s? (Eddie Gonzalez)
The teams that contend for the playoffs every season have one thing in common: They found their long-term, franchise quarterbacks.
The 49ers believed they had theirs when they signed Kaepernick to a seven-year, $115.073 million contract in early June. But the 49ers left themselves plenty of wiggle room with a signing bonus of only $12,328,766.
That’s the way Kaepernick said he wanted it, so the 49ers had the ability to assemble a strong roster around him. And, of course, that’s the way the 49ers wanted it. Kaepernick’s deal is essentially a pay-as-you-go arrangement.
Therefore, Kaepernick’s future is not tied to Harbaugh’s employment with the 49ers. Kaepernick’s future with the 49ers will hinge on whether the front office believes his production is in line with his contract.
For instance, if the 49ers – with or without Harbaugh’s input – believe Kaepernick is not worth his scheduled $12.8 million cash value for next season, he will not return. That is highly unlikely, of course.
But it definitely sets up a huge season in 2015, when Kaepernick has to prove he’s worth $14.3 million in 2016. His scheduled pay continues to increase to $16.9 million in 2017, $17.4 million in 2018, $19.2 million in 2019 and, finally, $21.4 million in 2020.
The 49ers might be eager to see what Kaepernick is capable of doing with a new approach on offense.
Do you think Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, or Michael Crabtree will be back next year? (Evie Rodriguez-Sanchez)
One of the three is a safe bet to return. The others face uncertain futures.
Patrick Willis believes he has “five or six more great years of football” remaining in his career. That’s why he opted for season-ending toe surgery nearly three weeks ago. Willis was playing at a high level before he exited the lineup for good.
Willis is everything a team wants – on and off the field, during the season and in the offseason, too. He is scheduled to earn $8.315 million in pay next season. If Willis is not worth that amount, then who is?
Vernon Davis, like Willis, is under contract for next season. In the final year of his deal, he is scheduled to make $4.95 million. That is likely too much for a player who turns 31 in January and will be coming off his least-productive season since his rookie year.
That could leave the 49ers with Derek Carrier as a receiving threat and Vance McDonald as a blocking specialist. They can also use the draft to bolster their collection of tight ends.
Crabtree is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. He is a good receiver, but he is not an elite receiver. How much will another team be willing to spend on him on the open market? It seems it will be more than what the 49ers might be willing to offer.
If Crabtree does not return, that would leave the 49ers with Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and, perhaps, an explosive draft pick to handle the receiving chores next season.