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Where is the next 49ers starting quarterback? Is he in college? Or maybe on another roster?

It might turn out that he's in neither of those places. Yes, Colin Kaepernick, the embattled, the controversial, and the political, has progressed well enough to be the team's starter next year, barring disaster.

Asked last week about his status for next season, Kaepernick said, "I'm under contract. I signed a two-year deal."  

Kaepernick failed to mention his player opt-out clause which he could exercise at the end of the season. That stipulation was part of Kaepernick's contract restructure which relieved the 49ers of the $14.9 million that they would have to pay him if he got hurt and couldn't pass a physical next year.

So, apparently, in Kaepernick's mind, he's Chip Kelly's quarterback for 2017. And, really, why shouldn't he be?

Granted, he hasn't won since becoming the starter six games ago. However, with the exception of the loss to New England, Kaepernick has progressed in every game.

In Miami last Sunday, he became the fifth quarterback since 1970 to throw for three scores and run for over 100 yards. He did it all, after becoming probably the most hated man in South Florida last week after he appeared to show support for the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.

Kaepernick wore a tee-shirt in August depicting a photo of Castro and Malcolm X. When verbally attacked by a Miami reporter about the tee-shirt, Kaepernick touted the educational system in Cuba. The reporter, whose father was banished from the plane carrying his parents to the United States, later wrote that Kaepernick was a "fraud" and an "unrepentant hypocrite" for his supposed support of Castro.

Kaepernick later said that he didn't support Castro's oppression, but nevertheless, Kaepernick became a national story again. Through it all, the writer never mentioned Kaepernick's own "Know your rights" campaign to help children of color with their personal safety, financial literacy and nutritional needs.

He was soundly booed at Hard Rock Stadium last Sunday but seemed completely undaunted. That kind of focus is what any coach would want from a quarterback, and players have been amazed at Kaepernick's ability to shut out catcalls he constantly hears on the sideline.

Politics aside, what Kaepernick provides on the field is a run threat, which at the quarterback position, can be lethal. The Panthers' Cam Newton threw for only 10 touchdowns last year. But he won MVP honors and his team captured 15 wins mainly because Newton was a duel-threat player.

Kaepernick has proven to be a better passer and Kelly's offense provides him with more space to run and pass.

"There’s more opportunities for (running), especially being in three-receiver sets most of the time, a lot more space out there," Kaepernick told the media this week. "So, scramble lanes are bigger. When we do run zone-read there’s more space there as well."

What Kaepernick will never be is Joe Montana, Steve Young or even Jeff Garcia, and that's a problem in San Francisco. However, that doesn't mean he can't pilot a productive offense. If Kaepernick can stay away from turnovers, and have a passer rating in the low 90's, the 49ers offense will be successful.

What Kaepernick must now fight is his perception. Raising the issue of systemic racism is uncomfortable for most fans and many have grown tired of Kaepernick's off-field campaigns and controversies.

But that's not a reason to ditch a player who can steer a viable offense. Keeping Kaepernick will allow him more growth in Kelly's offense, and that could solve a huge problem. Also, if the 49ers are comfortable with him as their starter, that will free up draft picks and resources to pursue other needs like, wide receiver, pass rusher and inside linebacker.

Oddly, getting rid of Colin Kaepernick makes little sense for the 49ers.

• Kevin Lynch covers the 49ers for

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