It came as something of a surprise when the 49ers placed Colin Kaepernick on injured reserve yesterday, and there has been no shortage of speculation regarding Kaepernick’s future since the move was made official. Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com believes the 49ers’ decision was motivated primarily by financial considerations, as putting Kaepernick on IR now allows the team to manage the risks in his contract. On April 1, 2016, Kaepernick’s $11.9MM base salary, currently guaranteed for injury only, becomes fully guaranteed. At this point, Kaepernick has 19 weeks until April 1 to recover from his shoulder injury, which seems easy enough to do (although, as discussed below, that may not be the case). But if the 49ers were to wait, and if Kaepernick were to continue practicing or playing in games–remember, he was forced into action for several plays two weeks ago when Blaine Gabbert was temporarily sidelined–his recovery time would be lessened, and the chances that he would be recovered by April 1 would be correspondingly reduced. Now, however, he should be fully healthy by April 1, thereby allowing the team to release him should it choose to do so.
Putting Kaepernick on IR now also allows San Francisco to “spin” the injury in such a way as to enhance the quarterback’s trade value. The consensus at this point seems to be that Kaepernick injured his shoulder in the 49ers’ contest against the Packers on October 4. It will be very easy for the team to say that Kaepernick’s underwhelming performance this season can be largely attributed to the injury and his efforts to play through it, and a team desperate enough for a quarterback may buy it. Indeed, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes, the 49ers received calls from three different teams at the trade deadline who were hoping to acquire Kaepernick, but those clubs could not take on his contract midseason. Rapoport adds that, given the outside interest in Kaepernick and the fact that both player and team appear anxious for a fresh start, the 49ers will continue to explore trade options in the offseason.
Neither Rapoport nor Fitzgerald believe Kaepernick will be in a 49ers uniform in 2016, but Rapoport’s information regarding Kaepernick’s recovery time could complicate matters a bit. Rapoport writes that Kaepernick is expected to undergo surgery to repair the fully torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder this Tuesday, and that recovery can last from four to six months. If the longer estimate ends up being the correct one, then Kaepernick may not be able to pass a physical by April 1, thereby forcing the team to guarantee his salary. Even if that happens, though, a trade still looks like the most likely scenario, as the relationship between the parties appears too far gone to salvage.