BOCA RATON, Fla. — The marriage seems as close to perfect as a coach could want, given the circumstances.
Chip Kelly gets the 49ers job after being unceremoniously dumped by the Eagles with one game remaining in the 2015 season, and he inherits a quarterback whose skill set seems to go perfectly with Kelly’s high-paced offense.
Only one problem: Kelly still doesn’t know if he’ll be coaching Colin Kaepernick.
Kelly wants Kaepernick, the mobile quarterback who only three years ago was within one pass of winning the Super Bowl under coach Jim Harbaugh. But it’s still uncertain if the feeling is mutual for Kaepernick. Especially after his agents have let it be known that the quarterback would like to be traded.
“We want him. I would really love to work with him, so I think he understands that,” Kelly said of Kaepernick during an NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL’s annual spring meeting.
Kaepernick is just about everything Kelly likes in a quarterback. Great arm, exceptional mobility and a presence that only a few quarterbacks possess. Despite a dramatic regression the last two seasons, which resulted in Kaepernick being benched for first-round bust Blaine Gabbert, Kelly still believes Kaepernick can resurrect his career. And there may be no better offense than the one Kelly runs, even if he wore out his welcome with the Eagles, in large part because of major philosophical differences with team owner Jeff Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman.
“I was surprised,” Kelly said in his first extensive remarks about his firing. “We had spent the whole day game planning [for the Giants] and at practice. Not something we saw coming.”
He admitted he wasn’t happy with the direction of the team.
“I didn’t think we were on the same page,” he said.
Kelly reiterated that it was Lurie who essentially gave him control over the roster after the 2014 season, and Kelly wasted no time in remaking the team. He traded for quarterback Sam Bradford, traded away Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy, and signed free-agent running back DeMarco Murray and cornerback Byron Maxwell to huge deals.
Roseman quickly undid Kelly’s work after his firing, trading Maxwell and Murray, as well as linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had been traded straight up for McCoy.
“We met after the season and discussed what was going on. It ultimately was his decision,” Kelly said of Lurie. “But I didn’t ask for anything . . . I would have been content to just go hire a general manager.”
He said he no longer thinks about his time with the Eagles, choosing instead to look forward to the 49ers — even if things remain unsettled at the most important position.
Kelly said he has been in touch with Kaepernick, although the two are not permitted to talk about football issues, due to restrictions laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.
“Have I done any selling? No. It’s just been talking to him, and I don’t think there’s a selling part,” Kelly said. “Number one, I can’t talk offensively with him and say ‘I think this is a good fit because of this, this and this’ because you’re not allowed to do that. But I did make him understand that just because there is a business side, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want you here.”
Kelly recalled an Eagles-49ers game in 2014 as an example of how impressed he was with Kaepernick.
“He got flushed [from the pocket] three times, and then he turned and threw a pass to the right sideline where I think [running back] Frank [Gore] was the last outlet on the play and just, his entire body and momentum was this way and it just came off his hand and stuck a hole shot,” Kelly said. “When he went to the combine, I think he had the fastest ball speed. I mean he can spin a football. He can really throw it.”
Now the question is whether Kaepernick will be throwing it for Kelly in San Francisco, or whether he’ll force his way out of town via trade. If it’s the latter option, Kelly can turn to Gabbert. Or else he can use the No. 7 overall pick to take a quarterback, perhaps Cal’s Jared Goff, especially if North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz is off the board by the time the 49ers pick.
A tough call either way, but one that Kelly would rather not have to make. The guy he seems to want most is the guy who’s already on the roster. At least for now.