By Eric Branch/San Francisco Chronicle (TNS)
When the 49ers signed Colin Kaepernick to a six-year contract extension in 2014, their news release included a statement from general manager Trent Baalke that hailed the quarterback’s commitment.
“Colin’s hard work and dedication have played an integral role in the recent success of the 49ers’ organization,” Baalke said. “His work ethic, leadership and on-field production have positively influenced our team.”
The quote was the continuation of a theme. After he made the leap from backup to unquestioned starter, several teammates, including highly respected players such as Frank Gore and Donte Whitner, said they hadn’t once beaten the early-bird QB to the team facility.
In recent months, however, a different message has been circulating about “Mr. First to Arrive and Last to Leave.”
In November, after Kaepernick was demoted, former 49ers and Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski said on 95.7 FM that Blaine Gabbert had been watching “four to five times” more video than Kaepernick on his iPad playbook before becoming the starter. Romanowki, who does not have any role with the 49ers, noted players’ studying habits could be monitored with the new technology.
In the days before the Super Bowl, Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree said he hoped Kaepernick, his former teammate, “gets in those books and watch that film and know what he’s doing out there.” CBS analyst Phil Simms was less direct, but suggested Kaepernick’s demise was tied to a lack of dedication.
“Some of it’s his fault; you’ve got to learn to adapt in the NFL,” Simms said. “You’ve got to do whatever it takes to succeed, and maybe he hasn’t done quite his part to fulfil his end of it.”
For his part, former 49ers quarterback Steve Young drew a distinction. Kaepernick, he said, had a strong work ethic, but he needed to spend more time in the classroom than the weight room.
“First of all, the guy is a hard-working guy,” Young said on KNBR in January. “He just works really hard on the things he’s already good at.”
This, of course, hasn’t been the only unflattering chatter surrounding Kaepernick. He was also the subject of reports critical of his leadership during the season, and he didn’t dismiss the suggestion those stories were inspired by sources within the 49ers’ front office.
Regarding his study habits, a source said the idea that Kaepernick was less than fully immersed in the 49ers’ playbook was “patently false.” Last year, before the start of the team’s offseason program, Kaepernick spent 10 weeks in Arizona working on his mechanics and doing X’s-and-O’s study with longtime NFL quarterback Kurt Warner. While playing in college at Nevada, Kaepernick was known as a video-room junkie.
The stream of negative reports is a major reason why Kaepernick’s relationship with the 49ers is fractured and his future with the team is murky. Kaepernick has been rehabilitating in Vail, Colo., where he has undergone three surgeries at the Steadman Clinic since late November. His decision to seek treatment from outside the team is another indication of his displeasure with the 49ers.
Can the relationship be salvaged? Kaepernick’s representatives will meet with the 49ers this week in Indianapolis at the NFL combine, which began Tuesday. And it’s possible both parties will have a better idea whether they’ll continue their union in 2016 after sitting down together.
The 49ers publicly have insisted they have no desire to release or trade Kaepernick. On April 1, Kaepernick’s $11.9 million base salary becomes guaranteed, but CEO Jed York and Baalke have said they aren’t concerned about the financial implications of keeping him. Of course, suggesting otherwise wouldn’t enhance Kaepernick’s trade value.
Because he’s under contract, Kaepernick doesn’t have the final say on where he plays in 2016, but the 49ers could determine that it’s not wise to keep a prominent player who has no desire to be with them.
If they sincerely want to keep Kaepernick, there’s no guarantee the 49ers can say anything to sway him. In Kaepernick’s mind, the 49ers already might have said far too much.
The 49ers announced Tuesday that they signed tight end Garrett Celek to a four-year extension. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Celek came to the 49ers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012. He has started 10 games in the past four years, appearing in a total of 39. He played in 11 games last season, with 19 receptions for 186 yards. He scored three touchdowns before hurting his ankle and going on the injured list in December.
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