Colin Kaepernick plans to opt out of final year of 49ers deal

The most polarizing quarterback in the NFL will reportedly be looking for a new home in March.

Colin Kaepernick, who transformed himself into both hero and villain in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality, plans to opt out of the final year of his deal with the San Francisco 49ers, according to ESPN. The move won’t become official until March 2.

His decision to likely leave San Francisco is no surprise; insiders have expected it since October, when Kaepernick restructured his long-term deal, set to run through 2020, with an opt-out for this offseason. He’ll get to choose his next home now, although it’s possible that, as a result of a protest with good intentions, he may find himself with few options.

League insiders expect that some team will pick up Kaepernick, but it’s entirely possible that his national anthem protest, as well as his rollercoaster production in recent seasons, makes him the least appealing option of the available QBs. At least one personnel man from a QB-needy club told the Daily News in January that he wouldn’t go near Kaepernick.

“I wouldn’t touch the guy,” he said. “(He) still has some in the tank, but (is) not worth bringing him into your building . . . too much of a distraction and also not what you want in the locker room.”

Kaepernick, who will be 30 in November, still has ability, even if he’s no longer the electrifying young talent he was in 2012, when he leapfrogged Alex Smith and led the Niners to the Super Bowl. In 2016, he threw 16 TD passes and just four interceptions in 11 starts, and conjured images of his past brilliance in a November loss to Miami, when he threw three TD passes and rushed for 113 yards.

That should be enough to entice some club to take a chance on a Kaepernick reclamation project, said another personnel man.

“Someone will think they can find the old Kaepernick,” he said.

What remains to be seen is how much that will be worth to a quarterback who arrives with so much off-field baggage, in a market that could have more enticing options. Kaepernick also could re-sign with the 49ers, although that seems unlikely, since the club is rebuilding under new GM John Lynch.

Washington’s Kirk Cousins, if he hits the market, would be the hottest QB, and Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor could also be available. New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Cincinnati’s A.J. McCarron are both expected to be available via trade. All are younger than Kaepernick and viewed as having higher ceilings than the Niners QB.

Still Kaepernick should almost certainly find a home, which is likely good for an NFL that’s battled a series of image problems in recent years. The league won’t want a narrative that GMs seem racist or unaccepting of Kaepernick’s protest, especially after a Bleacher Report article last August quoted one exec who branded him a “traitor” and another said he hadn’t seen this much dislike for a player since Rae Carruth, the ex-Panther who tried to murder his pregnant girlfriend.

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