The Checkdown: Whither Kaepernick?

Welcome to The Checkdown, our new weekly series that talk you through a few of the big news items and discussion topics from this week in the NFL, and give you loads of links to read even more about them. This week: where’s Colin Kaerpernick doing, and does anyone have a clue what the Tennessee Titans are going to do with the first overall pick in the draft?

Titans up at #1

With more speculation than in most years since CBA was implemented in 2011, what the Titans will do with the first pick is still unclear. The favourite option at the moment is Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil, who, according to ‘draft guru’ Mel Kiper, “in any draft, would be an elite left tackle” and “can be one of the best left tackles in the NFL”, an opinion shared by the majority of draft forecasts.

However, Peter King of MMQB says that although Tunsil would undoubtedly upgrade the Tennessee line and protect their investment in Mariota, “he isn’t a classic downhill left tackle (…) players with history in a college spread offense, like Tunsil, have to adjust, and that’s no sure thing”. With the NFL “transitioned into more of a three-down passing league. [Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey] seems the most pro-ready corner in this draft (…) with the ability to cover the kind of big receivers the league is fielding today”, with the ability to play multiple DB positions.

But with QB needy teams lower down the draft, who “might be desperate enough to overpay for the top pick”, don’t discount a trade, which King rates as a 50/50 chance (also reported by Bleacher Report). ESPN’s Adam Schefter said on a recent radio interview that he believes the Titans will trade down, with Carson Wentz “the first pick of the draft” for a team trading up with Tennessee.

SB Nation’s Adam Stites is sceptical of a change in ownership of the first pick however. Risking missing out on either of “a pair of players considered to be the best of the draft class and potential cornerstones to build around” will ensure a high price tag, whilst a lack of a clear cut star QB in this draft means “it’s fun to imagine the shake-up that would result from a trade for the top pick, but “50-50” seems like a stretch”, and a 1/10 chance of a trade is a more realistic probability.

Using the Jimmy Johnson Trade Value Chart and the more recent Football Perspective equivalent, Paul Kuharsky looks at three potential teams to trade with on ESPN. The scenario with the Browns seems unlikely – Tennessee aren’t looking for a QB, so the Browns would mainly be preventing other teams from trading with the Titans for first pick at a QB, such as LA. There’s “a big disparity between old-school and new-school thinking on value” – the new metrics see the 1st in exchange for the 15th, 43rd and 45th picks as an excellent deal for the Titans, whereas the older system sees it all that plus LA’s first rounder in 2017 as roughly parity. A trade with San Francisco may well depend on the personnel still on the 49ers books, which bring us to…

Colin Kaepernick

The 49ers QB has been widely linked with a trade to Denver, with ESPN’s Schefter reporting that once the money is agreed upon, “the compensation in the trade [a mid-round pick] is a nonissue”. However, “the Broncos are willing to pay $7 million”, with San Francisco and/or Kaepernick expected to pick up the $4.9M shortfall in the QB’s guaranteed salary. Kaepernick attended the first 49ers voluntary off-season workout on Monday,

As’s Chris Wesseling points out, there are numerous inconsistencies – if the 49ers “are dead set on keeping Kaepernick, why have they allowed him to meet twice with Elway”? If Kaepernick wants out so bad, why not accept a pay cut to “recoup so much more by resurrecting his career with the reigning Super Bowl champions?” And if GM John Elway sees the QB as his starter, “why not pay his $11.9 salary — an eminently reasonable figure for an NFL starting quarterback in 2016”. MMQB’s King thinks “Kaepernick will pick Denver”, as he was aware of the salary-cap issues at Denver, and wouldn’t “have even entered into these discussion if he wanted to keep his career alive in San Francisco”, even though “he would be a good quarterback in (49ers GM) Chip Kelly’s system”.

Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton believes Kaepernick should move – for the benefit of both teams. Previous Chip Kelly QBs such as Mariota and Bradford are more accurate than Kaepernick, and “their skill sets allowed Kelly to run a more complex passing attack”, and if Kaepernick wasn’t the starter, “paying a backup quarterback [$14.3M] is unnecessary”, suggesting the 49ers 2016 starter may by Jared Goff from the 2016 draft. However, Kaepernick is “a functional starter”, and “tossing a rookie quarterback or [Denver’s other QB, Mark] Sanchez into this situation would be asking for disaster”. Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak “should be able to replicate what Greg Roman did with Kaepernick from 2012 to 2014”. In addition, “Denver’s elite defense especially makes [Kaepernick’s limitations] easier to swallow”, and he “is an immediate upgrade for a team that is looking to win right now”.

However, with Kaepernick receiving a $400,000 offseason workout bonus for 90 percent attendance, patience is rewarding for the QB, and profootballtalk’s Mike Florio believes the stumbling block is that Denver are offering $7M/year for 2 years, whilst Kaepernick may want a one year deal, “allowing [him] to become a free agent next March”. Time is also on Denver’s side as Florio says in another article- “the Broncos know that (…) the 49ers eventually will agree to pay a chunk of his salary” – if Kaepernick gets injured in Organised Team Activities, commencing May 17th, San Francisco will have to pay the $11.9M contract in full, whereas if they trade him before then “they’ll pay the balance of what he makes elsewhere in 2016 and his fully-guaranteed base salary of $11.9 million”. In the meantime, “don’t expect the Broncos to blink. Elway routinely takes a hard line in situations like this”. One possible catalyst for the 49ers to get this done before mid-May is the 2016 draft, where a deal before this means “picks obtained from the Broncos would be used to make the team better not in 2017 but in 2016”.

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