It had been trending this way for a few weeks, but Colin Kaepernick did something that he had not done in a long time Sunday.
He looked good. Really good.
A three-touchdown, nearly 300 yards passing, and 133 yards rushing with only one turnover kind of good.
And Kaepernick did something even more incredible than that — he made the 49ers look good against a good team Sunday.
He might have created the possibility that he’s a starting quarterback in the NFL at the start of the 2017 season.
Kaepernick’s off-the-field storyline has been so charged and the 49ers so irrelevant that few have bothered to pay attention to how Kaepernick has played since he took over as the team’s starting quarterback on Oct. 16 against the Bills.
The 49ers haven’t won a game with Kaepernick under center this season — that can’t be overlooked — but No. 7 has also improved dramatically over the last six weeks, leading to Sunday’s strong performance, which came up 2 yards short of overtime.
Over his last four games, Kaepernick has looked comfortable and aggressive in the 49ers’ offensive system — which seems stunted by a lack of talent — and has completed 60 percent of his passes for an average of 277 yards per contest to go with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The real separation has come in the running game. Of Kaepernick’s 133 yards today, many were of a backbreaking variety (only for him to have his back figuratively broken on the final run of the game). His scrambles and read-option runs opened up defenses in ways that Blaine Gabbert certainly wasn’t able to do. It’s made the 49ers offense look competent.
If this keeps up, why would the 49ers let him go at the end of the year? He’s the teams’ best quarterback since … Colin Kaepernick.
San Francisco is going to have a high pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. While it was almost guaranteed that the Niners would take a quarterback with that high pick — they’ve been thinking about the top of the draft for a while in Santa Clara — that doesn’t seem so obvious anymore. The 49ers have holes all over the roster and while the quarterback position isn’t exactly set in stone for 2017, the Niners aren’t in a position where they need to pick a quarterback with their high first-round pick.
But that now relies on Kaepernick picking up his 2017 player option in San Francisco, which is worth $16.5 million. The 49ers could still cut him after this year — they wouldn’t owe him a dime after restructuring his contract earlier this year to get him on the field — but considering how much cap space they have, there might not be a reason to do it. Signing a veteran quarterback to start next year, should they not select a quarterback in the draft, would cost as much or more. Signing a lower-cost backup for a rookie QB would be the team counting pennies while sitting on a pile of $100s.
That said, while it’s highly unlikely that anyone would pay him more than San Francisco, Kaepernick might want to test the marketplace this offseason — it is his prerogative now.
Before this stretch, it was hard to see a player who made more news off the field than plays on it getting a gig for 2017, but if he keeps it up, Kaepernick would well be throwing passes in the NFL for the 49ers or even another team next year