BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Colin Kaepernick has already done Chip Kelly a fairly significant favor, even if the San Francisco 49ers coach hasn't yet figured it out. By requesting a trade, Kaepernick has effectively told Kelly he would rather not play in a system tailor-made for the multitasking skills that once landed the 49ers five yards short of a parade.
In other words, Kaepernick has effectively told Chip Kelly he doesn't want to play for him.
Think about that for a moment: Kaepernick and Kelly are two injured parties in dire need of some love. The quarterback looks like an Oregon Duck, plays like an Oregon Duck and quacks like an Oregon Duck, and still, Kaepernick has instructed his agents to free him from the mastermind of the spread-'em-out juggernaut at Oregon built around the Kaepernick-esque likes of Marcus Mariota.
That alone should convince Kelly the man in his mirror needs to make a change or three.
San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke says he isn't even remotely close to making a trade. Kelly says he's dying to work with Kaepernick, and GM and coach both say they fully expect the quarterback to be on the roster April 1, when his $11.9 million guarantee kicks in. But ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Kaepernick wants to play for Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson (the Browns have spiked that possibility, for now), the Broncos and Jets still have openings, and the 49ers could draft a quarterback with the No. 7 overall pick to compete with Blaine Gabbert.
That's why Kelly spent Wednesday at the league meetings curbing his own enthusiasm over Kaepernick by saying this marriage could really work out "if he's there on April 4th," the start of offseason workouts. Questioned about that "if," Kelly asked rhetorically, "Have there been some questions about him being there on April 4th? I'm just following the masses."
Those masses have reviewed the hard and circumstantial evidence surrounding Kelly's time in Philadelphia and concluded he needs to develop a different human-relations strategy the second time around. Yet during his hourlong meeting with reporters at the annual coaches breakfast, Kelly played defense a lot more decisively than his Eagles ever did. When pressed on the lessons he learned during a Year 3 meltdown punctuated by a firing at 6-9, and the stated desire of owner Jeff Lurie to find a replacement with "emotional intelligence" and the ability to "open your heart to players," Kelly maintained the takeaway was simple.
"We didn't win enough games," he said.
In a textbook case of dysfunctional management, Kelly had full control of the 2015 roster and yet never saw or spoke to the executive lording over the team's salary-cap issues, Howie Roseman, leaving personnel guy Ed Marynowitz as the doomed middleman. Kelly acknowledged it was a "weird situation." Ya think?
More troubling, of course, were reports that Kelly could've used his own life coach when dealing on a human level with players and other Eagles employees. He could be distant and cold, they said. He got rid of difference-makers DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy and kept the middling Riley Cooper, guilty of using a vile racial slur on videotape. The judgment call that a new contract for Cooper wouldn't negatively impact team harmony stood out among Kelly's audibles gone wrong.
"[Colin] Kaepernick and [Chip] Kelly are two injured parties in dire need of some love, and yet, the QB has instructed his agents to free him from the mastermind of the spread-'em-out juggernaut at Oregon built around the Kaepernick-esque likes of Marcus Mariota."
Once again, with feeling: It doesn't matter whether Chip Kelly believes he treats white and black players the same. If some African-American players believe he has trouble relating to them, and if that hurts Kelly in his locker room and in free agency, then he's got a problem. A big one.
But Wednesday he revealed he had heard from nearly every Eagles player after he was fired. "That part was really kind of humbling, to be honest with you," he said, before adding that the dissidents represented "a vocal minority," that his locker room relationships were just fine, and that some news reports to the contrary should be filed under fiction.
None of that sounded kind of humbling.
This comes across as bad news, doesn't it? It seems like the Chip Kelly who will try to make it work in San Francisco is the same guy who failed to make it work in Philly. He didn't have that four-year period of reflection Bill Belichick had between his firing in Cleveland and his second head-coaching job in New England, and it doesn't appear Kelly has a young Tom Brady hiding on his roster, either.
He jumped straight from a 6-9 team to a 5-11 team, and offered up nothing in the way of on-the-fly adjustments he might've made. "I think we're all a byproduct of our experiences," was the best Kelly could do.
Only here's the good news for 49ers fans still wondering why Jim Harbaugh isn't still the big man on their campus: Chip Kelly actually likes and trusts his boss (Baalke) this time, he's going to stick to what he does best (coaching) and, of greater consequence, he's already proven to be a very smart guy.
Very smart guys don't keep doing the same things that got them fired in other places. Chances are, Kelly knows he needs to do a better job connecting with his players and colleagues, and assuring them that they have his affection and respect. Chances are, Kelly doesn't see the upside of sharing that publicly right now; he might see such a concession as a sign of weakness.
Either way, he doesn't have to improve his news conference demeanor nearly as much as he needs to work on his behind-the-scenes approach. Belichick, whom Kelly described as a great friend and influence, can make a big social media mess by moving an unwieldy knot of microphones and recorders out of his damn way, and it doesn't matter. He knows how to reach and inspire his players, and in the NFL, that's all that counts.
Kelly needs to spend a little less time on cutting-edge technology and personalized smoothies, and a little more time on what (besides money) makes the professional athlete tick. He said he really enjoys the NFL, and the guess here is Kelly is sharp enough to figure out how to make the NFL really enjoy him, too.
Keeping and returning Kaepernick to a Super Bowl-level of performance would go a long way toward making that happen. Kelly said he hasn't discussed the pros and cons of a possible trade with the quarterback, who is recovering from shoulder, knee and thumb injuries, though he did tell Kaepernick he is absolutely wanted in San Fran.
"I think he knows I would love to have him," Kelly said.
Kaepernick knows it, and knows he's a perfect match for Kelly's system, and yet he still wants to pursue a trade. So the 49ers coach doesn't need to hear it anymore from reporters, or from Jeff Lurie, or from former Eagles he let fly away.
The perfect Chip Kelly quarterback doesn't want to play for Chip Kelly, and that pretty much says it all.