As starting quarterbacks go, Blaine Gabbert has been generally terrible this season. The San Francisco 49ers announced on Tuesday that they will replace Gabbert with Colin Kaepernick for Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills.
"We need to improve on the offensive side of the ball, and this is the decision we’ve made,” head coach Chip Kelly after he announced the change.
"I'm itching to get out there. It's a great opportunity to go out and win some games,” Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick began the 2015 season as the 49ers’ starter, but over the course of the first eight games of the season, his production was lackluster. Kaepernick threw for 1,615 yards, six touchdowns, and five interceptions over that span, leading then-coach Jim Tomsula to bench him in favor of Gabbert.
After Chip Kelly was hired to replace Tomsula, an open competition for the starting quarterback role commenced, which Gabbert won. This season, though, Gabbert has played poorly, completing 87 of 150 passes for 890 yards, five touchdowns, and six interceptions.
Gabbert has been so bad, in fact, that 49ers fans began chanting for Kaepernick to replace him during the Niners’ Week 5 primetime loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football.
“It’s not Blaine’s fault,” Kelly said. “I think it’s just as a group offensively we need to be better in a lot of ways, so we’re going to see what we can do and make a move here.”
Despite being relegated to a backup quarterback role, Kaepernick has been the focus of much attention this season for his ongoing protest of the national anthem. Kaepernick has chosen to kneel during the national anthem prior to each game to protest the ongoing oppression of black Americans.
Kelly, though, insisted the protest hasn’t been — and won’t be — a distraction for the team.
“It has not been an issue and I think of how Colin has handled it, he handled it very straightforward with our players when it first came about way back when in August.
“So, I don’t see it changing from that standpoint.”
The 49ers have reportedly been working on restructuring Kaepernick’s contract, which initially included $2 million in roster bonuses. That means Kaepernick is getting paid $125,000 per game in which he’s on the active roster, regardless of whether he’s starting. The 49ers would like to convert that amount to guaranteed salary and add $1 million in playing time incentives, according to USA Today’s Tom Pelissero.
On Tuesday, Kaepernick said he and the 49ers were “still in discussions” about his contract.
While Kaepernick’s recent play has justified diminished confidence in his ability as a starter, he has a previous track record of success as a starting quarterback in San Francisco. Kaepernick played in 13 games for the Niners in 2012 and started seven, leading them to an 11-4-1 record and a Super Bowl bid. The 49ers lost to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
The following season, Kaepernick started all 16 games and the Niners went 12-4 and lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship. More recently, however, Kaepernick has gone 3-10 in his last 13 starts. Sunday’s game will be his first start since Week 8 of the 2015 season.
Following Thursday’s 33-21 loss to the Cardinals, in which Gabbert threw for 162 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions, Kelly said the team did not consider an in-game quarterback change. However, he did say that moving forward the 49ers would “look at everything” in terms of the quarterback situation.
The result of that, for now, is for Kaepernick to take over as the starter in San Francisco.