SANTA CLARA -- Get out your No. 2 pencils, it's time for a multiple choice exam: Which NFL quarterback has a sub-83 passer rating, has a terrible touchdown-to-interception ratio and ranks among the bottom-10-rated passers in the league?
A. Colin Kaepernick
B. Andrew Luck
C. Peyton Manning
D. Cam Newton
Sorry, it was a trick question. The answer actually is E: All of the above. But if asked, 'Which of these quarterbacks' teams is in the division cellar?', the answer would have been clear -- A: Colin Kaepernick.
Not only do the others have better records, their teams lead their respective divisions. In fact, Manning's Broncos and Newton's Panthers are undefeated.
Which is to say: A lot more than bad quarterback play has sunk the 49ers this season.
And make no mistake, the quarterbacking has not been good. Kaepernick likely has no future in San Francisco beyond this year and there's a good chance he'll be benched before the season is over.
But how does someone go from winning four of six playoff games -- three of them on the road -- to having to be defended in a players-only meeting? Kaepernick clearly cannot carry a bad team out of the basement. But what quarterback could under these circumstances?
Kaepernick is on a team with a rickety offensive line, a push-over defense, little depth at running back and now a whisper campaign is undermining him. Like Alex Smith before him, the 49ers have failed Kaepernick more than he's failed them.
When he was negotiating his contract last year, Kaepernick made it clear he was willing to accept less than top-of-market value if the team would use the savings to ink extensions with some of the 49ers' other soon-to-be free agents like guard Mike Iupati and receiver Michael Crabtree.
An Associated Press story at the time had this passage: According to one source, Kaepernick specifically asked, "So this structure gives us room to try extensions with my teammates, right?" He was told yes.
Maybe that was naive. The quarterback's six-year deal didn't necessarily free up salary-cap space. But the 49ers told him they needed cash in hand for the bonuses attached to new deals, which Kaepernick's contract, conspicuously light in fully guaranteed money, created. The 49ers readily agreed when Kaepernick and his representatives made those stipulations and nodded along when Kaepernick spoke about it afterward in a press conference.
"Part of the way the contract is written and the way it was negotiated was so they would be able to sign other players," he said. "That was something that my agents and the organization worked out and they felt like this was something they would be able to get other players with.”
The 49ers didn't come close to re-signing Iupati or Crabtree. Nor did they retain free agents like Frank Gore, Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox, Josh Johnson or Dan Skuta.
Instead they brought in Torrey Smith, Reggie Bush, Darnell Dockett, Shareece Wright, Erik Pears, Jerome Simpson, Jarryd Hayne, Nick Bellore and Philip Wheeler.
The 49ers are now nearly $12 million under the salary cap, according to the NFL Players Association. Only five teams have more space. Next year they are estimated to have $41 million in salary cap space, according to OvertheCap.com.
Meanwhile in Carolina, Newton is completing 55.8 percent of his passes, has 1,275 passing yards, nine touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 78.4 passer rating. He's being talked about -- by ESPN, by NFL.com, by The Washington Post -- as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Kaepernick has completed 61.4 percent of his passes, has 1,453 yards, six touchdowns, five interceptions and an 82.8 passer rating.
He's being talked about as a legitimate candidate to be benched.