The news — first reported by Kyle McLorg of Bay Area Sports Guy — comes just hours after head coach Jim Tomsula remained noncommittal on whether Kaepernick would start at quarterback for the 49ers during Monday’s media session.
Kaepernick has been at the forefront of criticism aimed at the league’s worst offense, as the veteran quarterback has failed to lead a depleted offensive unit. Kaepernick has completed just 144 of 243 passes on the year so far for 1,615 yards and six touchdowns through eight games.
His 201.9 yards-per-game is 33rd in the NFL, and the struggling quarterback has not thrown a touchdown since Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Gabbert has not appeared in a game for the 49ers in the regular season. The fifth-year veteran — and 10th overall pick in 2011 — completed 23-of-28 attempts in the preseason for 203 yards and one touchdown.
Kaepernick’s struggles began during the Week 3 divisional matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, where the signal caller threw for four interceptions and two pick-sixes while taking his team out of the game early with his poor performance.
Kaepernick has never fully recovered, leading his his team to a woeful 2-6 record to claim the bottom of the NFC West.
The quarterback’s job security seemed bleak Monday after Tomsula would not confirm Kaepernick’s starting status for the first time since taking over as head coach. Instead of offering his usual support, Tomsula offered an ambiguous take on the unfolding situation:
“We’re evaluating everything right now. So, we’re in the middle of it right now. I don’t have any comments on any position on our field right now. We are evaluating everybody.”
The decision to start Gabbert over Kaepernick comes on the heels of the Vernon Davis trade announced earlier Monday. With a plethora of injuries degrading the situation in Santa Clara, the 49ers project to open up with a starting offense featuring wide receiver Quinton Patton, running back Kendall Gaskins, tight end Vance McDonald and Gabbert at quarterback.
More than anything, Monday’s news may be an admission of defeat from a front office and coaching staff who have had few answers for the struggles that their once prosperous franchise is now facing.
Although the poor construction of an offensive line from general manager Trent Baalke may have more to do with Kaepernick’s regression than anything, the team may appear to be willing to move on from the man that former head coach Jim Harbaugh brought to the organization.
San Francisco may instead look towards the 2016 draft, as an exciting quarterback prospect like Jared Goff may be the first name on the 49ers draft board.
Or this may just be a one week experiment in futility. Kaepernick has looked downright atrocious at times with some of his throws, but there is no reason why Gabbert should be able to turn around a struggling offense that is plagued with a revolving door of an offensive line.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers’ pass blocking ranks 18th-worst in the NFL, while their run blocking is the worst by a large margin. Kaepernick has been sacked 10.3 percent of the time when he drops back to pass.
Some of the blame, of course, rests with Kaepernick and the lack of confidence he has shown in the pocket. But a lack of offensive diversity stemming from a poor running game and pass protection has limited his upside.
Gabbert may be willing to take more of a chance with his arm than Kaepernick has exhibited lately, but throughout the preseason he has hardly looked any more stout while being pressured in the pocket.
The lack of Gabbert’s ability to use his legs — coupled with the depletion of the 49ers running backs — may further limit the playbook and the ability to stretch defenses, as the Atlanta Falcons will surely key in on containing Gabbert in the pocket and cutting off passing lanes.
This move may only be a short-term experiment, but the damage done to Kaepernick and the front office’s relationship may be longer-lasting.