With Harbaugh/Kaepernick Came Relevance & Winning

Colin Kaepernick

As a lifelong 49ers supporter who’s watching the 2015 season unfold, I’m finding it rather discouraging & shameful that some fans are doing the front office’s bidding.  I believe fans are buying into this smear campaign orchestrated by the 49ers front office.  Clearly the duo of Balkee/York are trying to sell the fan base on the idea that the 49ers are better off without the highly-talented Colin Kaepernick as the starting quarterback.

Currently, a large portion of Niner fans are already buying into this idea that Kaepernick is not a capable starting NFL QB (& that Blaine Gabbart is a better option).  As more Niner fans begin to buy into this idea, we are stamping our approval of the front office’s plan to make Colin Kaepernick the scapegoat for this tumultuous 2015 season.  It gives the egotistical Trent Balkee a pass for total mismanagement of the coaching staff and overzealous micro-management of the team.  Accepting this mediocre management of the team also permits Jed York to put a cheaper, second-tier product on the field while maximizing profits.  The idea that Kaepernick is due too much money next year & a may be problem for the team’s 2016 salary cap is absolute baloney.   The 49ers are in a great cap situation due to all the departures heading into this season.

With everything that has happened with the 49ers in the last year, expecting a winning 2015 campaign was just unrealistic to begin with.   If you had expected Colin Kaepernick to perform at the same level he did in 2012 & 2013, your expectations were totally unrealistic to start the season.  Believing he has “regressed” if he doesn’t meet these wildly ridiculous expectations in 2015, is even more nuts.

All of this is total insanity to me.   Try to name one starting QB in the NFL over the past 20 years that was benched & then discarded after accomplishing all of the following in 3.5 seasons as a starter;

-4 playoff games in 3.5 seasons as a starter
-Combined 31-22-1 (or better) record w/ an NFC Championship title
-More TD’s than INTs & respectable completion percentage.
-Top tier rushing numbers for a quarterback w/ rushing records broken.

The fact that Colin Kaepernick needs a change in scenery upsets me just as much as Jim Harbaugh’s exit did.  It just puts the 49ers on the road to being the organization that nobody with talent wants to play for (or be drafted by) and no quality coach wants to work for.

Last season, the media tried to claim that Jim Harbaugh had “lost the locker room” (citing unnamed sources that were obvious front office “leaks”).   Guess what?  This is exactly what they are saying with regard to Colin Kaepernick this season.  And, guess what?   People are buying it again.

When the 49ers beat Baltimore this season, I saw no sign of disconnect between the team and Kaepernick.  When they battled the Giants on Sunday Night Football, there was no evidence of a team that didn’t want to play for their quarterback.  Just as there was little evidence last year that Jim Harbaugh was losing the team’s respect (players hugging him and giving him game balls), there is no evidence of this with Kaepernick now.

Based on media speculation and rumors, it still appears as if Colin Kaepernick will be on another NFL franchise next season (and more than likely starting).   I fully expect him to have success elsewhere when provided with competent/qualified coaching staff, along with a system & the personnel that will allow him to use his talents as a mobile passer.  He will end up starting elsewhere.  There are many fans of other teams right now that are excited about the prospect of #7 being their teams starting QB.

Kaepernick will likely get the media’s support again with another team & some positive spin will come with it (especially in a big market).  Why?  Well, because NFL football today is reality TV and in the entertainment business, everyone loves a ‘fall from grace’ story as much as a ‘comeback’ transformation.  This is this same reason the media referred to Alex Smith as a ‘game manager’ & “the only weakness on the 49ers’ roster” in 2010-11. Suddenly (after losing his job to Kaepernick) in 2012, Alex Smith was talked about by the media as if he was a top tier quarterback and the savior to the Kansas City offense.

Today, Kaepernick is a hot topic of conversation with the media because of his abilities as a performer, early success, and most importantly, everyone loves the “fall from grace story”.   This is exactly why quarterbacks like Ryan Tannihill or Blake Bortles aren’t micro-dissected daily on ESPN (regardless of how poorly they perform).  There is no story with those guys until they actually have playoff success (meaning there is no Kaepernick-like ‘fall from grace’ to be had).  Blasting quarterbacks like this would just alienate their fans.  The media networks know that the NFL today is pure entertainment.  To see the “hit rock bottom” Colin Kaepernick re-energize a team and his career is good TV; just as it’s good entertainment to discuss how the quarterback who won an NFC Championship and two division title 2 years ago, has suddenly “regressed” and fell apart.

Football fans are reactionary spectators looking to be entertained.  More viewers watch football on TV the same way WWE fans & American Idol fans do.  It’s not about the product on the field and the games.  It’s about the drama.  Football fans are always looking for something worth discussing on social media.  The network TV conglomerates today have more stake in the NFL then ever and share a bigger cut of the profits.  The media’s job it to keep people talking about the NFL and it’s entertaining dialogue.  Many fans can be convinced that a guy like Kaepernick can completely “regress” (and no longer play football at a high level) just as easily as they can be sold on the idea that today’s NFL is less prone to concussions & injuries.

The truth is, Kaepernick is the same guy and the same talent.  However, the team around him, the caliber of coaching staff, the supporting game plans & his overall support from the front office & fans is what has “regressed”.  This young QB has all the tools and has been completely mismanaged by an inept coaching staff that is learning on the job.  To see Kap get tossed out with the garbage makes me sick as a 49er supporter.

And, for god’s sake, please don’t try telling me Kaepernick “can’t throw a touch pass” because we’ve all seen throw great touch passes in big games.  And, don’t spew nonsense that he can’t read defenses and is a wildly inaccurate passer.   All educated Niner fans have all see him in big games making great reads & great throws into small defensive holes and shredding even top defenses with game-changing plays.

More and more 49ers fans are suddenly allowing Kaepernick to be scapegoated by the front office.  This less than one year after the front office lost some popularity when they pushed Jim Harbaugh out the door.  For 49ers fans to be wishing Kaepernick ill is just plain wrong.  The ones who think he isn’t an NFL caliber starting QB (or believe he can’t be a winning starting QB once again) will be in for a surprise when he’s the comeback poster child on ESPN (while playing in a major market city, such as Philadelphia).

It disappoints me that our fans are actually buying into this “we need to move on from Kap” narrative .  I watched as fans demanding high level QB play from Kaepernick who was stuck with a new coaching staff and team with more than 10 starting player departures (which opened over 30 million in cap room).

Now, the commentators & fans sit back and watch Blaine Gabbart at the helm, but unlike Kaepernick, they watch him with no expectation of winning.  Simple praise is given for just being competitive. Gabbart has been playing the past three games and his quarterback play has been fairly pedestrian.  Even the losing performances by Gabbart are suddenly being perceived as a positive.  Don’t kid yourself, The past three 49ers games had no shortage of;

-squandered red zone appearances
-inopportune interceptions
-below average scoring with stalled drives
-risky throws & near interceptions bouncing off defenders chests
-overall losing record

These things are suddenly kosher to many 49ers fans & the TV commentators praising mediocre play as being uplifting.  However, had the exact same performances the past three weeks been made by Colin Kaepernick (instead of Blaine Gabbart), the reaction from everyone would be different.  The color commentators and analysts would be picking apart the quarterback play and dissecting every mistake & missed throw.  The last three games by Gabbart are exactly the type of games that Kaepernick has been crucified for during the past two years.  However, they are the same types of performances that even top level starters have.  Even the best QB’s in the game have bad weeks, months, or even full seasons.  Kaepernick, the past two years, has played just under .500 ball and we’re ready to throw him out.

After watching two decades of the pre-millennial winning years in 49er history (80’s and 90’s), I then watched over a decade of losing football in San Francisco.  I watched the front office play the QB/coaching carousel game.  I watched them unsuccessfully try to find a suitable head coach and quarterback (over and over again).   Many Niner fans even patiently allowed six losing seasons to Alex Smith as quarterback (me included) before determining that he wasn’t the long term solution.  And, those were the years when a record of 7-9, 8-8, and 9-7 would win the NFC West division.  These were times when Seattle & Arizona were mediocre-to-bad football teams.     During these losing years I dreamed of the day of having a coach like Jim Harbaugh and starting quarterback like Colin Kaepernick (which it what was always missing).  In 2011, it took Harbaugh just one start with Kaepernick to see that he had a better option on the bench.

After Colin Kaepernick is officially done with his Red and Golf uniform, 49ers fans will eventually be ready to put the blame entirely on York for what has transpired this past year.  However, after Kaepernick is gone, the 49ers will no longer be a remotely interesting watch to the neutral NFL viewer.  With that, can expect the Niners to get as much  favorable officiating from the league as the Bills, Raiders, & Jags.  You got a good glimpse of this in Week 12’s loss to the Cardinals.  Then, expect to see them get zero national coverage.  As a result, we can expect the NFC West to continue making punching bags out of us for many years to come.  It seems 49ers more fans are becoming comfortable with this idea.

With Harbaugh & Kaepernick came relevance, excitement, and winning.   After just 3 brief years with this duo, it looks like the second half of the pair will also be discarded so the front office can save face……at which time, the 49ers will sink further into the abyss of football irrelevance (where pedestrian performances are seen as a “good sign”).  I’m not sure about most, but this Niner die-hard is already missing Colin Kaepernick.

Until this team finds a another talented QB such as Kaepernick, and a competent head coach, like Jim Harbaugh, we will continue to watch overall “regression” of the Niners on Sunday’s.

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Lou Palumbo

Lou Palumbo is a freelance sports writer and professional sports betting analyst. Lou has worked for several sports handicapping services throughout the country as a beat writer and researcher. At 32 years old, he's been a 49ers fan his entire life. From a young age, he traveled to countless stadiums across the country to see the 49ers play and was alive for every 49ers Superbowl. Plays like; "The Catch", Young-to-Owens TD against the packers, Montana to Taylor (Bengals), Alex Smith to Vernon Davis (divisional playoff vs. the Saints), Kaepernick Rushing Record in the (NFC Wildcard against the Packers) give him chills to this day. He will be the last guy to ever move on from bad beats like the No Holding Call in the 2012 Superbowl (vs the Ravens). But, win or lose, every Sunday, Lou is dialed in, watching every play of fro the 49ers and looking at the team from a broad-minded perspective. Lou has lots of insight on the 49ers and is a "Wiser 49er Fan"