A meager seven months ago, San Francisco quarterback and former Wolf Pack great Colin Kaepernick was on cloud nine. Just 29 starts into his career, Kaepernick had inked a six-year, $126 million contract.
Fast-forward to today and Kaeper n i c k’s career seems to be at a crossroads. The f o u r t h – y e a r signal caller regressed in 2014 with 3,369 yards passing, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. All in all, Kaepernick posted an unimpressive 86.4 quarterback rating — ranking 20th in the NFL.
After a pair of NFC Championship game appearances, the 49ers stumbled to an 8-8 finish this past season. San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh lost a power struggle within the organization and bolted for his alma mater Michigan.
Without Harbaugh, Kaepernick has lost his largest supporter. He loses the man who called him “Great with a capital G.” He loses the man who “rode the hot hand” and handed him the starting job in 2012 in spite of Alex Smith’s above average play. He loses the man who used a second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft on him.
So is Kaepernick’s wagon hitched to Harbaugh’s? Not exactly. The way Kaepernick’s contract is structured is more or less pay-as-you-go. His contract for the season is only guaranteed if he remains on the roster by April 1. The 49ers could cut him this offseason and Kaepernick wouldn’t see a dime of his remaining salary.
That said, the chances of him being released this season are slim. Kaepernick is slotted to net $12.8 million for the 2015 season, which is a manageable salary for an NFL starting quarterback. However, with his salary increasing each season — before topping out at $21.4 million in 2020 — pressure will be sky-high for Kaepernick’s production to match his pay or else.
So how does Kaepernick right his wrongs? While most lay blame to Kaepernick’s offensive line for his struggles, I don’t buy that. Yes, Kaepernick was sacked 52 times in 2014, second most among all quarterbacks. By the same token, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 42 times and he’ll be playing in the Super Bowl in two weeks. San Francisco’s front needs to be rebuilt, but that’s not the main reason Kaepernick has regressed.
Above all, Kaepernick needs to work on his pocket presence. All too many times, Kaepernick tried to make plays with his legs when the pocket collapsed. The best signal callers dodge pass rushers with a few steps and don’t give up on their reads as quickly as Kaepernick did last year. Working with two-time MVP-winning quarterback Kurt Warner this offseason will help Kaepernick vastly in this area.
Calling Kaepernick’s 2015 campaign a career make-or-break season is a severe understatement.
With his back against the wall, Kaepernick has a history of rising to the occasion. Look no further than trailing 24-7 at halftime to Boise State in 2010 before willing the Wolf Pack to victory, erasing a 22-point deficit in Super Bowl 47 and leading a game-winning drive in the playoffs against Green Bay last year, just to name a few.
No challenge in Kaepernick’s football career will stack up with what he’ll face this coming season. My money is on Kaepernick.
Eric Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on @Uribe_Eric.