If the Denver Broncos are to get their intended target in Colin Kaepernick, they must hope the quarterback and new San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly don’t pull a John Fox-Kyle Orton and fall for each other.
Although Kaepernick’s $11.9 million salary became formally guaranteed with the 49ers following the end of the NFL’s business day Thursday, the Broncos remain interested in acquiring the quarterback. Broncos’ general manager John Elway was well aware San Francisco was not going to release Kaepernick by the time his salary was to become fully guaranteed on the start of business Friday.
There were two reasons. One, Elway understood Kaepernick has too much trade value for the 49ers to release him without getting at least a draft pick in return. Two, Kaepernick has injury protection in his contract and is currently rehabbing three surgically-repaired injuries that made his release impractical.
All along, Elway has been patient in his pursuit of Kaepernick. He acquired veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez three weeks ago in part because it allowed Elway to not get desperate.
The next deadline for acquiring Kaepernick is likely when the NFL Draft begins April 28. The 49ers have the No. 7 overall pick that day, while the Broncos by virtue of their Super Bowl title (and New England forfeiting their first-round pick) don’t select until the final pick in the first round, No. 31 overall.
Any trade involving Kaepernick figures to involve draft picks, which is why April 28 becomes a likely deadline.
Kaepernick is considered more of a frontline option than Sanchez as the Broncos seek to replace Brock Osweiler, who bolted for free agency and the Houston Texans, and the retired Peyton Manning..
The Broncos interest in Kaepernick comes with the caveat they want either the quarterback to take a pay cut that would pay him $14.3 million in 2016 ($11.9 million in salary; $2 million in a roster bonus if he is on the active roster for 9 games, and a $400,000 workout bonus), or for the 49ers to eat some of his salary before dealing him.
The 49ers open their offseason program Monday – two weeks earlier than the Broncos because Kelly is a new coach. Although Kaepernick wants out of San Francisco, he is expected to show up at the 49ers facility Monday because he has a $400,000 workout bonus at stake.
Which could be trouble for the Broncos if Kelly and Kaepernick get in the same room and, you know, get along.
The Broncos went through a similar situation with Orton in 2011. Prior to the lockout that year, Orton let it be known he wanted out of Denver because the organization seemed intent on moving forward with Tim Tebow at quarterback.
The Broncos were complying with Orton’s wishes and were ready to ship him to the Miami Dolphins as the lockout ended. The catch was the Dolphins needed to rework Orton’s contract that was to pay him $8.8 million in 2011, the last year before he reached unrestricted free agency.
Talks were far enough along that the Broncos told Orton to skip the first “voluntary” practice on July 26. A deal was almost done but then contract talks hit a snag. Orton was told to report to the Broncos’ first official training camp practice on July 27.
During the morning session that day, Orton threw the ball great while Tebow was chucking the ball erratically. Between the morning and afternoon practice sessions, Fox, who was just beginning his first year as the Broncos’ head coach, pulled Orton aside and asked the quarterback to stay.
He did. Orton was the Broncos’ season-opening quarterback but after starting 1-4, Tebow came in to pull off one miraculous, late-game victory after another. But Tebowmania is beside the point in regards to Kaepernick. The point is both Orton and Kaepernick wanted out. But after Orton and the Broncos’ brass got in the same building, icy feelings thawed.
The Broncos must hope Kelly doesn’t have the same effect on Kaepernick next week. If the Broncos don’t get Kaepernick, they can try to acquire a veteran like Cleveland’s Josh McCown, Houston’s Brian Hoyer or Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon, or go forward with Sanchez and second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian while also drafting a quarterback within the first two or three rounds.