While the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns attempt to work out a trade for Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers are preparing for a third scenario -- retaining the 28-year-old quarterback and allowing him to compete with Blaine Gabbert for the starting job under new coach Chip Kelly in 2016.
Kaepernick, benched for Gabbert midway through last season and coming off three surgeries, will be guaranteed his $12 million salary for 2016 if he remains on the Niners' roster on April 1. Given the recent explosion of quarterback contracts, including the Houston Texans' signing of former Broncos backup Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72-million deal on Wednesday, the 49ers believe Kaepernick's salary isn't too much to swallow for a player who'd theoretically have a chance to be their starter this season.
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The agents for Kaepernick, who guided the Niners to within five yards of a Super Bowl XLVII victory three seasons ago and took them to the brink of another NFC championship the following year requested a trade during last month's NFL scouting combine.
Talks have heated up in recent days with the Broncos, who are scrambling to find a new starter in the wake of Peyton Manning's retirement and Osweiler's departure, and with the Browns, who released former first-round pick Johnny Manziel on Friday and have 36-year-old Josh McCown as their top returning quarterback.
The Broncos and 49ers remain apart on compensation, with San Francisco seeking a second-round draft pick in exchange for Kaepernick. The Broncos have had discussions with Kaepernick's agents about a restructured deal for the quarterback, and a source familiar with the conversations characterized those talks as productive. Denver has also reached out to the agents for free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose negotiations for a potential return as the New York Jets' starter have stalled. (Editor's note: The Broncos later traded for Eagles backup Mark Sanchez, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport).
The Jets, multiple team front office sources say, have not made any serious inquiries to the 49ers about Kaepernick, but they are exploring several other possibilities in the event that they do not reach a deal with Fitzpatrick. Former starter Geno Smith, the team's second-round pick in 2013, remains on the roster.
The Browns hold the second overall pick, putting them in position to draft one of the top-rated incoming quarterbacks, Cal's Jared Goff or North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. Even if the Browns were to trade for Kaepernick, they would still consider taking Goff or Wentz with the second overall selection.
As of Friday, talks between the Browns and Kaepernick's agents on a restructured deal had not progressed to a point that would satisfy the quarterback enough to green-light the arrangement. The 49ers and Browns, meanwhile, are in general agreement regarding the draft-pick compensation that it would take to acquire Kaepernick.
If nothing gives in the next couple of days -- meaning that neither the Broncos nor Browns could finalize agreements (involving trade compensation and contract restructuring) that would satisfy both the 49ers and Kaepernick, respectively-the Niners are preparing to move on and initiate a quarterback competition. Though general manager Trent Baalke is extremely high on Gabbert, a former Jacksonville Jaguars first-round pick, Kelly is intrigued by the idea of coaching Kaepernick, whose mobility and athleticism would seem to fit the coach's system.
Though Kaepernick might not be thrilled with the arrangement, the Niners would rightfully contend that they attempted to work out a trade, but that neither party (the team nor the player) was ultimately satisfied with the proposals that were on the table.
Theoretically, the 49ers could then try to trade Kaepernick following the 2016 season -- or, if he is their entrenched starter, allow him to play out a relatively team friendly contract that lasts through the 2019 campaign.