San Francisco 49ers: Kaepernick’s Return Should Make Draft Plans Clearer

January 3, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) walks on the bench against the St. Louis Rams before the game at Levi
January 3, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) walks on the bench against the St. Louis Rams before the game at Levi /

With Colin Kaepernick set to return to the San Francisco 49ers for his sixth season in 2016, the team’s draft plans should become a little clearer.

Note: On Thursday, it was announced that Kaepernick’s agents requested permission to seek a trade for his client. So the quarterback situation remains an everchanging enigma. At this point, no one really knows how things will go.

On Wednesday at the NFL Combine press conferences, San Francisco 49ers’ general manager Trent Baalke announced that former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be on the 49ers’ roster come April 1st, at which point his 2016 salary of $11.9 million salary becomes guaranteed for the upcoming season.

After Kaepernick was benched midseason in favor of his backup, Blaine Gabbert, it seemed like a longshot that Kaepernick would wear a 49ers jersey in 2016, especially after undergoing surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, his right thumb, and his left knee in the past four months. While it’s still possible the team takes a big financial risk and cuts the 28-year-old Kaepernick before the season starts, it seems that the 49ers have their top two quarterbacks in place for 2016.

The 49ers have a lot of needs to address in the draft, and one of them is quarterback, although that is certainly not the most glaring hole on the team. In various mock drafts, which obviously mean little to nothing in the grand scheme of things, they used the seventh-overall pick to take a quarterback that they can build their future around. The idea of taking California Golden Bear quarterback Jared Goff with that pick is especially tantalizing, if he were to still be available after six other teams made their selection. He’s from the Bay Area (Novato, California), chose the Bay Area school at which to play his college ball, and wore the number 16 in honor of Joe Montana. But with Kaepernick returning to the 49ers for at least one more season, the 49ers can use that pick to address a more pressing need, like the offensive line or the pass rush.

With their signal caller not being a very big need, San Francisco can use their early-round picks, maybe the first three, four, even five, to upgrade other areas that need it more. Their offensive line, specifically the right side, was a turnstile last year, and was a big part of some awful quarterback play and a terribly ineffective running game. Their pass rush was nowhere near the level the team is used to, accumulating just 28 sacks, the fourth-worst mark in the league. Their pass defense wasn’t very good either, allowing over 260 yards per game, sixth-most in the NFL, and intercepting just nine passes. They don’t have that game-changing wide receiver that all good teams seem to have.

With all those needs that look to require addressing more than the quarterback spot, the 49ers will have to be busy in the draft. Maybe with Kaepernick sticking around for at least the foreseeable future, Baalke and company won’t be as tempted to use that seventh pick on a quarterback, which wouldn’t necessarily be immediately helpful to the team.

Gabbert proved in 2015 that he can provide a spark for his team and lead them to some wins. He was 3-5 in his eight starts, but overall played pretty well considering the talent in front of him and the running backs he worked with. Kaepernick has proven in the past that he can win games and be a great dual threat quarterback.

If the 49ers still want to take a quarterback, there should be some available in the later rounds. Some more high-profile passers, like Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg, Kevin Hogan, or Vernon Adams (who would seem to be an ideal fit for new head coach Chip Kelly’s system) should be hanging around on the third day of the draft. After the 49ers pick some players who can help fill their immediate needs, they can take a lower-level quarterback that they can teach and mold for years down the road.

Next: Kelly Hiring Bad Look for Baalke and York

Kaepernick may no longer be the franchise quarterback, the man to lead the 49ers for years to come. But for the time being, he helps solidify the team’s quarterback position so they can address much more pressing needs in the 2016 NFL Draft.