Deal or no deal, 49ers Colin Kaepernick appears on verge of starting next game in place of Blaine Gabbert

Revised contract could eliminate concern over injury guarantee upon QB switch


One potential hurdle to get Colin Kaepernick back on the field could be on the verge of being cleared. His super-sized contract is close to being restructured, eliminating the guarantee of next year’s $14.5 million salary in case of injury, the NFL Network reported Friday.

A revised deal would also eliminate the final three seasons of Kaepernick’s contract, which he signed in June 2014.

Coach Chip Kelly said Friday he’s had no reluctance to play Kaepernick based on contractual issues.

“No, I’ve never … I mean I played him in the first game,” Kelly responded. “So that kind of answers that question.”

Well, kind of. Kaepernick’s only action this season came when he played the final three snaps — and handed the ball off each time — in the season-opening, 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

A day after the 49ers lost their fourth straight and fell to 1-4 behind quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Kelly declined to say whether Gabbert or Kaepernick will start their next game, Oct. 16 at Buffalo.

“I’m not naming any starters for Buffalo, so just don’t rule anything out, is what I’m saying,” Kelly said. “But I guarantee the headline is, ‘I didn’t name this guy the starter.’ I didn’t name any starters for the Buffalo game.”

Kelly intended that as a blanket indictment of a feeble offense that clammed up in Thursday’s 33-21 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers now rank 30th at 291.4 overall yards per game, and they’re dead last in passing, at 170.0 yards per game.

Less than 24 hours after Levi’s Stadium fans chanted “We-Want-Kap,” Kelly had already twice replayed video of Gabbert’s inefficient passing in their latest loss, including two obvious overthrows and two interceptions.

“We’ll spend a little more time this afternoon talking about what we need to do to improve on the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said.

Kelly reiterated Sunday’s post-game statement that any position change is up to him and his staff rather than general manager Trent Baalke.

CEO Jed York, on Sept. 12, confirmed that Chip Kelly has ultimate control over the game-day lineup. That’s not to say, however, the 49ers weren’t averse to adjusting Kaepernick’s contract to alleviate any financial liability in case of injury. “We understand the ramifications of everybody’s contact,” York said then. “Those are some things that will be discussed, and if we need to make a decision based on that, we will.”

Kaepernick last spoke with the media on Sept. 27, although the majority of that locker-room session was spent discussing his strive for social equality and his protest of the national anthem.

“He’s just the better quarterback and the better quarterback has to get out there and play,” former 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott told KNBR 680-AM. “My instincts tell me we’ve got to get him back on the field.”

Kelly hasn’t strayed from his long-time message that Kaepernick’s health and playing ability is not what it once was, at least not what it was when his career piqued in the 2012-2013 seasons. Kelly said Kaepernick most recently weighed in at 215 pounds, some 15 pounds below his listed weight on the roster.

“He’s continuing to work and continuing to get stronger and continuing to get better,” Kelly said. “… He came back from three surgeries. It’s just a process of getting him back anywhere.

“There’s not a weight limit on what he has to be to play. It’s just that what he is right now is he’s not the 2013 version of himself that took a team to the Super Bowl, from a physical standpoint.”

— So what happened on Gabbert’s first-half overthrows to Garrett Celek and Rod Streater? “He just missed the throws. I don’t know if it’s a mechanical thing,” Kelly said. “Not having watched the tape with him to see what he saw and what was his though process.”

— Jeremy Kerley became the first 49ers receiver to produce 100 yards since Anquan Boldin on Oct. 18, 2015. Kerley had eight catches for 102 yards against the Cardinals while playing on an injured left ankle.

“He’s a dynamic player,” Kelly said. “The first thing you notice he can get in and out of cuts and breaks. He’s sudden in what he does. He can make people miss, he’s got real good short-area quickness and he’s got outstanding hands. Blaine seems to find a comfort level with him.”

— Defensive back Chris Davis (knee) and outside linebacker Tank Carradine (toe) were to have MRI exams on their injuries Monday and Kelly had no update on their conditions.

— Safety Jaquiski Tartt endured a neck stinger and quadriceps strain but neither injury is considered serious, the 49ers stated. Tartt did not get fined for Sunday’s controversial, unnecessary-roughness penalty on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, the NFL announced.

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