The Niners' Colin Kaepernick problem
No word better sums up Colin Kaepernick right now than “inconsistent.” On Sunday against Arizona he earned the worst grade of his entire career, but it’s coming directly after one of the 10 best graded games of his career and the single-highest-graded passing performance he has ever had (in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh).
Against the Cardinals he looked completely lost, completing only nine of 16 pass attempts for 67 yards, which in itself would be horrendous, but he also tossed four interceptions to finish with a passer rating of 16.7 overall. On plays in which he was pressured his passer rating was just 2.8, and he completed as many passes to Cardinals players (two) as his own teammates.
All four of his interceptions came on the right side of the field outside of the numbers, throwing four picks in just six attempts targeting that area of the field.
Quarterbacks are going to have bad games in the NFL—defenses are too good for anything else to be true—but part of being a legit starter at this level is mitigating those bad days and not adding to the problems. Kaepernick just seemed to heave panicked passes into obvious coverage and dug the team even deeper with each error. This Colin Kaepernick has no business starting games at this level, but the issue for the 49ers is they have no idea which guy will turn up next week.
The 49ers have never been entirely sold on Kaepernick the quarterback, which is why they handed him the kind of contract they did—one with huge headline numbers, but which amounted to a pay-as-you-go deal for a quarterback who would be worth paying for as long as he was starting. The moment the 49ers decide they have moved on from him as a viable starter they can cut loose his contract with relatively little penalty (or none at all if they do it in the offseason).
Their issue is that he is neither one thing nor the other for any extended length of time. You need to go back to the 2013 season to find a run of more than a couple of games where Kaepernick posted consistently good grades. Even that year there was ugly play at the beginning of the season, and he didn’t finish it as strongly as he had been playing, but his performance over the past 20 games since the beginning of the 2014 season has been completely up and down. He has three games in there that are All-Pro-caliber excellent, but four games that are “cut this guy right now” bad. Even the games between those two extremes are not consistently one thing or the other.
The only thing you can be sure about Colin Kaepernick right now is you have no idea what level of performance he will produce from one week to the next. At some point that in itself is all you need to know about his ability to start long-term and earn the bigger sums in that headline contract. The 49ers can chase the good Kaepernick for a while, and try to work out what produces those excellent games, but eventually you need to find a guy who may not have that ceiling, but whose floor doesn’t extend several levels below the basement.