- Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider
In the spirit of International Myth-Shattering Week here in sports, let's look at another myth which might have flown just a tad below the intrigue threshold of some other storylines. Since Oprah was double-booked, consider it a public service.
Myth: The 49ers and head coach Jim Harbaugh made the move to start Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith purely based on the merits of performance. They knew Kaepernick was the future and could do things Smith wasn't capable of, and they made a gutsy move because, as I wrote at the time, Harbaugh had earned the right to go with his gut.
Reality: A lot of it was about money.
The move to start Kaepernick now looks like a typical master-stroke from Harbaugh, but at the time, it was a perfect situation of a personnel move dictated by a trio of factors:
1. Smith was coming off a concussion, so it was easy to justify as a move sensitive to a hot-button medical debate in the NFL.
2. The 49ers at the time were 6-2-1, and had a little first-place cushion to test-drive CK for a week.
3. If the 49ers could learn whether CK was truly the starter-of-the-future, it could save them a bunch of cash. As I also noted at the time, if Smith was on the Niners' roster in 2013, he'd be there at a cap hit of $10 million.
For 2013 and 2014 combined, Kaepernick represents a cap hit of a $2.8 million. The reality is the 49ers didn't just start Kaepernick for what we now know is the potential to be the latest team with a frightening dual-threat QB. It was also because if he was even 80 cents on the dollar of the performance they could have gotten from Smith, they'd still be a really good football team with the knowledge that their young starter would almost surely get better, and also one more flexible to help itself elsewhere. Now, they have a great young starter who represents a two-year cost of what Mark Sanchez will make in about four weeks next season.
It also means Smith could be cut, but more likely, will be pushed in a trade. And it's actually a good time to trade him.