The 49ers are not going to make an attempt to cut quarterback Colin Kaepernick before April 1.
At least, the 49ers have repeatedly stated that position in the past six weeks. Coach Chip Kelly said last week the organization has not even discussed the possibility of releasing Kaepernick.
The 49ers are apparently not going to just give way Kaepernick, either.
They hold his rights through the 2020 season. The 49ers have plenty of cap space to absorb his scheduled pay. So, as originally reported, the 49ers are going to hold out for compensation they deem worthy or they are not going to agree to a trade that sends Kaepernick elsewhere.
Kaepernick’s $11.9 million salary becomes fully guaranteed this week. But it’s only fully guaranteed if Kaepernick insists that it remains fully guaranteed. He might determine it’s in his best interest to tear up that contract if the 49ers reach a trade agreement with another team.
There are a lot of moving parts to Kaepernick’s situation, and here are some of the key elements:
April 1 comes a day early
If Kaepernick is on the roster on April 1, his $11.9 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed. But the key date is actually Thursday (March 31). Any transaction submitted to the league office after 1 p.m. (PT), goes on the next day’s personnel notice. Therefore, the deadline for the 49ers to make a move is 12:59:59 p.m. (PT) on Thursday. Otherwise, he would remain on the roster on April 1, which officially makes the salary guaranteed.
But this is irrelevant, too, because it's not the end of the story, and the 49ers have said all along that their intent is for him to be on the roster and compete with Blaine Gabbert for the starting job.
The April 1 guarantee guarantees nothing
When Kaepernick is on the 49ers’ roster at the end of the day on Thursday, his salary becomes fully guaranteed -- on his current contract.
But the 49ers can still trade him, of course. Because every player’s base salary is paid weekly over 17 weeks of the regular season, none of that money begins to be paid out until September. If the 49ers were to make a trade, the team that acquires Kaepernick picks up the contract and the terms of the deal.
However, any team that acquires him will likely want to renegotiate that deal. Then, it becomes a question to what Kaepernick values most. Does he want out of the 49ers so badly that he is willing to take a pay cut or restructure his contract? Or does he want the guaranteed money that kicks in on Friday? And would he choose to remain with the 49ers on his current contract rather than seeking an opportunity elsewhere on a new contract?
The minute the 49ers execute a trade that sends Kaepernick to another team, they rid themselves of any financial responsibility, including that $11.9 million salary that they “guaranteed” as of 1 p.m. on Thursday.
The 49ers could not cut Kaepernick, anyway
That’s partly true. It’s also why we’ve always tried to phrase the 49ers’ stated position as they will not “seek to release him" or "attempt to cut him." Kaepernick’s $11.9 million base salary is guaranteed for injury only (before April 1).
Kaepernick is rehabbing from surgeries to his left shoulder, right thumb and left knee. He has not been given a full physical because there’s no reason to give him a full physical. They have already stated they are not cutting him. Kaepernick will likely take a physical when he is scheduled to report to the team’s offseason program on April 4.
But Kaepernick’s agents Scott Smith and Jason Bernstein have made it known that Kaepernick wants out. So requesting a trade implies that Kaepernick would rather have a chance to go to another organization with no strings attached. If the 49ers had truly wanted to release Kaepernick, they could have reached an agreement with Kaepernick to cut him with minimal or no compensation.
Kaepernick and the offseason program
Kaepernick’s camp has sent the message that he will show up on April 4 when the 49ers’ offseason program begins. Kaepernick must attend 90 percent of the voluntary offseason program to collect a $400,000 workout bonus.
If Kaepernick really wants out, why would he show up? First, he would be forfeiting $400,000. Second, it looks as it’s 50-50 whether Kaepernick remains with the 49ers. If he is back, his focus would be on winning the starting job. His best chance at winning the starting job would be to show up on Day 1 and compete.
Short of an early retirement, Kaepernick has no other options if the 49ers are unable to find a trade partner.
Who makes the call on Kaepernick?
Coach Chip Kelly has spoken with uncertainty in recent weeks about Kaepernick’s future with the team. If he truly wanted Kaepernick on his roster and he had all the say in the matter, there would be no reason for him to hedge his bets.
Kelly said all of his interaction with Kaepernick has been positive. Kelly said he is not handling anything on the 49ers’ business side, and he said Kaepernick’s agents are taking care of everything on that end.
“I did make him understand that, ‘Just because there is a business side to it, it doesn’t mean we don’t want you here,’” Kelly said. “We want him. I really would love to work with him. I think he understands that.”
Baalke said no one person in the organization will make the decision on his own. When CSNBayArea.com asked him last week about the decision-making process, he said the organization will arrive at a consensus.
“We’re going to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization, and we’re going to make them together,” Baalke said. “It’s not one person who’s going to make the decision to do anything.”
Kaepernick remains available in a trade. If the 49ers were not open to trading him, they never would have opened that door.
When asked last week why they would give Kaepernick’s agents permission to speak with other teams about a trade, Baalke answered, “Because I think sometimes it helps players work through anything they may have. It gives them a chance to see what their options really are. It also gives us a chance to say we didn’t hold you back from doing that.”
Ultimately, Kaepernick has veto power
Assuming any team that acquires Kaepernick would insist on re-working his contract, Kaepernick has ultimate power to determine whether he wants to go to a new team or remain with the 49ers.
This is a two-pronged situation. First, the 49ers have to arrive at an agreement with a team for compensation to acquire the quarterback. Then, Kaepernick’s side must agree on the terms of a new deal. There must be agreements on both ends. And if Kaepernick does not accept any possible terms of a new contract with another team, he will remain with the 49ers.
The next important dates are April 28-29
There have been no serious trade talks since March 10, the second day of the new league year. Baalke said he held no significant discussions with any of his fellow general managers last week at the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.
If, for instance, the Denver Broncos are interested in obtaining Kaepernick, they might have wanted to call the 49ers’ bluff and see if the team would attempt to part ways with Kaepernick before April 1. That could be the main reason that trade talks have gone dormant.
The next unofficial deadline is the NFL Draft. After it becomes apparent the 49ers are just fine holding onto Kaepernick and his contract, the Broncos might want to make a move to acquire him before or during the draft. The Broncos’ second-round pick could come into play on April 29, if Denver has yet to add a quarterback better than Mark Sanchez.