49ers financially stuck with Gabbert

Blaine Gabbert (Getty Images)

The 49ers are hoping Blaine Gabbert doesn't need to play a meaningful down in 2014. But he has not performed well in two preseason games, and San Francisco might stuck with him no matter what.

Jim Harbaugh has been lauded for his work with quarterbacks. And he got a player he liked this offseason when the team traded for former No. 10 overall pick Blaine Gabbert for a sixth-rounder in May's draft.

But after two preseason games, Gabbert hasn't taken steps to inspire confidence. He's thrown two interceptions in as many games while completing 11 of 25 throws against reserve defenses. Fairly or not, he's been the focal point of two-straight preseason losses in which the team has been outscored 57-3.

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Those interceptions simply won't fly any more, according to Harbaugh.

"Whoever doesn’t turn the ball over will be the backup quarterback," Harbaugh said.

Ideally the 49ers won't have to worry about their No. 2 quarterback, like in 2013 when Colt McCoy played just 22 snaps - none of which proved meaningful.

Another ideal: San Francisco wouldn't have to guarantee Gabbert's $2 million salary for the season. But his money is fully guaranteed. It was around this time last year McCoy restructured his contract to make it easier to swallow and more cap friendly. But they won't have that luxury with Gabbert, who makes his money whether he's on the roster or not.

And that money will count against the salary cap going forward. For the 49ers, that's the sticking point. Because next year Colin Kaepernick is due roughly an $11 million raise. Same for Aldon Smith, who will make $5 million more in 2015 than he will this year after the team picked up his fifth-year option in the spring.

That's before factoring in pending free agents Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati. Salary cap space rolls over, and cutting Gabbert means $2 million in wasted money they won't be able to offer those players following the season.

"Protecting the ball is the number one thing that the quarterback has to do...My job, which I'm focusing on, is not turning the football over," Gabbert said Sunday.

Gabbert looked better in the first half of Sunday's 34-0 loss to the Broncos after taking over for Kaepernick after just two series. He connected with rookie Bruce Ellington for four receptions on seven targets.

A number of those plays were quick hitters, allowing Gabbert to play with better rhythm than last week in Baltimore.

Gabbert was leading a promising drive into Broncos' territory in the third quarter before throwing an interception to Tony Carter when trying to hit Quinton Patton down the middle of the field. The ball was under thrown and Carter was able to undercut the route and make the pick.

The interception was Gabbert's last play of the game.

"I got to get (the throw) up. It’s a timing route and I got to get it up over that nickel defender," said Gabbert.

Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson didn't have great days either. Johnson fumbled in the fourth quarter while Bethel-Thompson threw an interception leading to four turnovers for the 49ers on the afternoon.

San Francisco's trio of reserve QBs combined to post a 43.41 rating Sunday. None have authored a scoring drive so far this preseason.

Will the 49ers be looking to bring in outside options to add to the competition?

"No. We got good quarterbacks," Harbaugh said.

In Gabbert's case, they have a quarterback that they might be stuck with, even if he doesn't stop turning the ball over this preseason.

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