With Colin Kaepernick not playing due to lingering shoulder soreness, Blaine Gabbert had an opportunity to take the lead in the San Francisco 49ers’ lead quarterback competition during their game against the HoustonTexans Sunday. However, he let that opportunity slip through his fingers. More appropriately to how he played: his opportunity was errantly thrown and could not be completed.
Gabbert ended the day 4-of-10 for 63 yards and the touchdown. The touchdown came on a 43-yard pass to tight end Vance McDonald, who scampered in for the score. Most people watching the highlights will remember just the catch and run, and not the fact that Bernardrick McKinney fell over at the line of scrimmage, giving McDonald clear run to the end zone. Outside of that play, Gabbert was 3-for-9 for 20 yards, including a blisteringly fast three and out to start the game that took about 40 seconds off the clock and managed only one yard as a Carlos Hyde run was stuffed, and Gabbert threw extremely wide of his receivers on the other two passes. He was bad.
We’ve seen Blaine Gabbert and the San Francisco 49ers. Gabbert is what he is, a low-level quarterback. Colin Kaepernick is also a low-level quarterback, but he used to be so much more. The Niners are in bad shape, a roster universally considered to be one of the worst in the NFL and a no-win quarterback situation with a mercurial head coach and a GM on the hot seat. It’s a far cry from Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers. Gabbert represents a safer floor than Colin Kaepernick, but also a much lower ceiling.
The 49ers need a David move, a high-risk, high-reward move (named for David and Goliath). To shoot the moon and go for it all. In football terms: a hail mary. Colin Kaepernick is that hail mary. Everything is stacked against the 49ers, and we can already see that Gabbert is going to take them exactly to their median expectations. Four wins or so and another top-ten draft pick as the franchise shuffles one year forward, without a shot at doing anything this year.
Instead, the San Francisco 49ers should turn to Colin Kaepernick. Yes, Kaepernick was disastrous the last time we saw him, a mess of inconsistencies and wild throwing, but there was a time in Kaepernick’s career that he was a monster. Remember when Ron Jaworski said he could be one of the best quarterbacks ever?
Unfortunately for the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick is currently dealing with shoulder fatigue; likely a result of his long off-season spent rehabbing surgery instead of throwing. He is unlikely to win the starting job out of the gates as he will likely miss this week’s preseason matchup, meaning he won’t get the start in the week three tune-up. Alas, Gabbert is likely to get the first crack at the starting gig, with newly signed Christian Ponder as his backup. It’s a bleak situation in San Francisco.
Is Kaepernick better than Gabbert, or Ponder, for that matter? We don’t know, at this point. We do know that the possible range of outcomes for a full season of Blaine Gabbert is much narrower, and this isn’t a Denver Broncos situation, where Mark Sanchez just needs to do enough to make sure they don’t lose. The 49ers need to overcome some serious deficiencies. Gabbert isn’t the quarterback that can completely break the game like Colin Kaepernick can.
Sure, Kaepernick could be the pumpkin he turned into last season, but using the high-variance Kaepernick gives them a wider range of outcomes. They could only win two games, but by the same end, we have seen a highly successful Kaepernick lead a team to the Super Bowl. With Gabbert, they could maybe reach six wins, but won’t get fewer than two. Gabbert is the safer play not to be laughed off the field, but there isn’t a range of outcomes where he gets you to the playoffs.
The one promising part of the Chip Kelly offense Sunday was the run game. Kelly showed he was going to run it a lot, with several unsuccessful read option and quarterback run plays. These plays are where Kaepernick made his hay; the 2012 Packers are still trying to catch up to him on his long playoff touchdown run. Kaepernick still has his running ability, even if you can’t give him anything else. His arm and decision making isn’t too far off from Gabbert, so why not take the shot?
San Francisco spent last season trying not to lose; they need to spend this season going all-in to try to win. If they win two games or six games, the quarterback will be different next season. Why not take a shot at nine games when the downside is that you remain what you already are: the laughingstock of the league?