The long, strange offseason for Kaepernick -- stuck in limbo between a team he doesn't want, a coach who seemingly wants him and another team that might want him (but only at a certain price) -- continued past the first deadline that was supposed to determine his fate and into what could be at least a few more weeks of wondering where he'll play next season.
Kaepernick remains a reluctant 49er, having, as far as we know, not been persuaded by a few preliminary talks with Chip Kelly to rescind his trade request. Perhaps a greater thaw could take place -- if one is in the offing at all -- when the Niners begin their offseason program, which will allow for increased contact between coaches and players, on Monday.
But when Thursday's deadline passed, Kaepernick's base salary for 2016 -- $11.9 million -- became guaranteed. That, of course, guarantees nothing about where he will play. The 49ers still could trade him, perhaps right around the draft, but the options are increasingly limited, with the Browns having signed Robert Griffin III and the Jets out of the conversation, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport. It does make one thing certain: Kaepernick doesn't have to accept less than that amount from any team, complicating further the trade possibilities. And it would seem to indicate that the 49ers are not bluffing -- they are perfectly fine with Kaepernick staying and competing for the starting job.
That is particularly true if the only potential trade partner remains the Denver Broncos, as it now appears to be. The Broncos certainly could use Kaepernick, although acquiring Mark Sanchez gives John Elway some measure of insurance. Forget for a moment the compensation question in a trade: The Broncos have minimal salary-cap space right now -- about $2 million -- and Kaepernick surely would have to accept a substantial pay cut or the 49ers would have to pick up part of the bill in a deal. Is Kaepernick's dissatisfaction with the 49ers brass so great -- and his longing to belong to a championship team with a loaded roster and its own quarterback guru in Gary Kubiak so strong -- that he would walk away from millions of dollars that he might never be able to recoup? Are the 49ers so interested in a clean break that they would assume part of the cost to send off Kaepernick?
It's hard to blame Kaepernick for his disenchantment with the 49ers. After Jim Harbaugh was forced to walk the plank, Kaepernick freefell last season without him, was benched for Blaine Gabbert and then put on injured reserve. To believe that there is no chance for a fresh start in the organization is understandable. But the most disappointing part of this staredown is that Kaepernick's understandable concerns about the 49ers might short-circuit the undeniably intriguing potential of Kelly working with the kind of dual-threat quarterback he never had in Philadelphia.
Kelly was interested enough in the possibilities with Kaepernick that Rapoport reported that when Kelly was plotting his next NFL stop after being fired by the Eagles, the coach also was trying to figure out how he could acquire the 28-year-old quarterback. Kelly is no dope. Kaepernick would seem to have the physical tools to do exactly what Kelly is most successful doing with quarterbacks. And Kelly's reputation as a football mastermind could use a boost -- after the debacle back east last season -- as much as Kaepernick's career needs rehabilitating. It seemed like a very lucky marriage when the 49ers hired Kelly. Until Kaepernick said he wanted a divorce before he had spent any time with Kelly.
The next important date, if there is hope for a reconciliation, is Monday. That is when the 49ers' offseason program starts with conditioning work. Until now, Kelly has been allowed to have only the broadest conversations with Kaepernick, but was not permitted to have detailed football talks. So Kelly has not been able to give his pitch for what he might do to resurrect Kaepernick's career.
"The rules are the rules," Kelly said during the NFL Annual Meeting last week in Boca Raton, Florida. "So instead of complaining about them, just understand them. And hopefully if he's there on April 4, we'll get a chance to sit down and really spend a lot of time with him. I've talked to him a couple times. But you can't get in depth and really talk about anything from a football standpoint. But instead of complaining about them, that's what they are. And when we finally can see them in person, we'll get rolling from there."
The most immediate question is whether Kelly will see Kaepernick at all. If Kaepernick is intent on again signaling his desire to leave, he could fail to report. Then, it would be hard to imagine Kelly -- a coach who jettisoned considerable talent in Philadelphia because those players were not fully to his liking -- wanting to continue with a disgruntled player.
But it is expected Kaepernick will show up. (The QB receives a $400,000 workout bonus if he participates in 90 percent of voluntary offseason activities.) That will start the clock on what will amount to speed dating for Kaepernick and Kelly, a coach as innovative and compelling as Harbaugh was. That relationship got Kaepernick and the 49ers to within inches of the Lombardi Trophy and it is entirely conceivable the Broncos' defense could get him at least that close again.
But when these two men finally get together, Kelly has to convince Kaepernick of something much more personal in San Francisco: that he could again make him into the quarterback that he was with Harbaugh in 2012, the kind of player who would not be just a complementary part, the kind of player who would have had more than just one other team pursuing him.