When the 2012 season comes to a close, it should be pretty well decided as to whether or not Colin Kaepernick's future lies in San Francisco.
And the second-year quarterback may not even see the field in any meaningful action.
Because, for now, Alex Smith is the starting quarterback in the Golden City—an honor he's finally earned.
That said, there are more than a few who believe the combination of Kaepernick's rare skill set and head coach Jim Harbaugh's ability to coach up QB's could equal NFL stardom for the talented youngster.
Fact is, Harbaugh has such a unique understanding of the quarterback position that he probably could've turned Giovanni Carmazzi into a serviceable quarterback in the NFL.
Well, serviceable may even be a stretch on that one.
Point being, Harbaugh and the 49ers front office selected Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft because they wanted a quarterback with solid physical tools who they could mold for the future.
They also wanted a guy who displays an unquestioned level of toughness. Harbaugh has a deep desire to win on football's greatest stage, and he expects his QB to share that same passion.
Kaepernick seems to fit the description. But he's not the only tough cookie in town.
As I said before, Alex wasn't perfect in 2011. But he often displayed the characteristics of a true winner last season—especially when the team needed it most.
He was gritty, confident and got the job done. There were miscommunications and errant passes along the way, sure. But Alex put together a valiant performance in 2011—the 2012 playoffs in particular—and we should all be excited to see if the remarkable story of Alex Smith can continue its upward climb.
Alex is on a mission to bring a sixth Lombardi Trophy to San Francisco, and he plans to make sure Kaepernick is holding a clipboard when it happens.
It's also been well-documented that Trent Baalke and Co. have dedicated this offseason to adding explosiveness to the offense.
Future Hall of Fame WR Randy Moss and former Giants Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs have all come aboard to help Alex move the offense down the field more fluently. The 49ers front office then spent their first two draft picks in 2012 on explosive playmakers A.J. Jenkins (WR) and LaMichael James (RB).
However, you'd be crazy to ignore what Kaepernick brings to the table. The Nevada standout is 6'5", 230 pounds and ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Among quarterbacks, only Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor posted a faster time at the event that year.
A testament to Kap's rare combination of a big-time arm and high-end speed—he's the only quarterback in the history of Division 1 FBS college football to have passed for over 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,000 yards in his collegiate career.
But until he's given a proper opportunity to validate his talents on the gridiron, Kap is nothing more than an NFL backup getting paid half a million dollars a year ($607,922 to be exact) to hold that previously-mentioned clipboard.
This is, however, the NFL. Injuries occur far more often than we care to see, and guys like Tom Brady and Kurt Warner have seized unexpected opportunities before. Neither were drafted even close to the second round, and Warner wasn't drafted at all.
So, until it plays out, we cannot accurately foresee whether or not Colin Kaepernick has a future in Red and Gold. It's the National Football League. No sport is more unpredictable than this one.
But my gut feeling—which I often fail to recognize—tells me no. Alex, for once in his seven-year career, is comfortable. And despite any lingering grumbles regarding the Peyton Manning pursuit, Harbaugh is comfortable with him as his starting QB on a championship-caliber squad.
The unfortunate truth is that the longer Alex continues to succeed in San Francisco, the longer Kaepernick's career will suffer while he backs him up.
We must remember that even though Kaepernick is just 24 years old, Alex is only 28. He's got a lot of football left in the tank and wants to play it out as a Niner. He always has.
Regardless of what city he's playing in, Colin Kaepernick could very well have a bright future in the NFL. He's a hard worker with a cheap contract, and he'll surely warrant an opportunity to play somewhere.
But if things keep going the way they are, that opportunity won't be coming in San Francisco.
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