It's a matter of when, and not if, the Rams and 49ers make changes at quarterback. And while neither coach will provide a timetable of any sort, there are some looming natural guideposts that could indicate when the inevitable changes are made.
Los Angeles is off to a 2-1 start and it's clear that Jeff Fisher is in no hurry to play first-overall pick Jared Goff. He's very much living in the moment with this team and trying to win with veteran Case Keenum and stay relevant in the NFC. But this team still has major flaws, and the Rams aren't going to be good enough to justify Goff redshirting an entire season -- especially not in a year in which a record number of first-time starters continue to take the field with increasing success each week.
The Rams play three of their next five games at "home" -- they host the Giants in London for one of those games, which merely requires flying cross country and then across the Atlantic as well. Then they have their bye week before hosting Carolina. If the Rams are still hanging around the periphery of the playoff picture by midseason, then maybe Fisher can hold off making the switch. But the limitations in the current offense have already been exposed and the execs I talk to believe that staff will have a hard time continuing to sell Keenum over Goff by the time they get back from England.
Things are a little more complicated in San Francisco given the stand that backup Colin Kaepernick has made after already having a complicated relationship with the front office. He's getting immense support from coach Chip Kelly for taking a stand against social injustice and police brutality and sources say he has continued to receive strong support inside the locker room for that as well, but there remain concerns about whether he can succeed as the starting quarterback there again. He still needs to re-establish some on-field trust with his teammates and continue to get into playing shape after undergoing three significant surgeries.
It's safe to say there is some trepidation about how Kaepernick might respond to getting a chance to start again -- which I was a little surprised to detect given how well he played at one point. The degree to which the quarterback became detached from his teammates creates some fissures that apparently still have not been entirely smoothed over. But Kelly also knows that, if he's fit, Kaepernick possesses many of the traits he looks for in a quarterback. He certainly is an athletic talent when healthy and what Blaine Gabbert is putting on film thus far has been fairly putrid.
Gabbert has done nothing to inspire any faith through three weeks. It's been ugly. He is completing just 55 percent of his passes despite being in a system in which he's being asked to do virtually nothing in terms of difficult throws downfield. Kelly's play-calling is catering to Gabbert to accentuate accuracy, yet Gabbert often can't complete a simple screen pass. To that point, he is averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt -- again, this is dink-and-dunk stuff by and large -- and he has just 532 yards for the season. His quarterback rating is just 68.6.
The 49ers splurged to land big-play speed receiver Torrey Smith before the 2015 season, but he is horribly miscast with Gabbert at the helm. Smith has caught just eight balls all season, averaging just 12.9 yards per attempt, with no gain of even 30 yards yet. No receiver on the roster has even 115 yards for the season. Getting Kaepernick on the field gives them a better rushing option and Kaepernick has no problem getting the ball deep down the field. Kaepernick has, in his career, also displayed an ability to play the quarterback position when at his best that Gabbert has never come close to approaching.
So, when does Kelly make the move?
Well, the 49ers play two home games in a five-day span, hosting the Cowboys Sunday and then the Cardinals the following Thursday. If Gabbert continues to be Gabbert, with the extended break before the 49ers play in Week 6, Kelly will be under mounting pressure to make a change by then. The 49ers are having difficulty drawing fans, the offense has been mostly a failure and Kaepernick is going to get his shot to play again.