ORLANDO -- The 49ers began discussing a contract extension for quarterback Colin Kaepernick last month, and Jim Harbaugh on Monday said it was "a high priority" to have that completed this offseason.
"The priority is that Colin Kaepernick is a San Francisco 49er for however long we can have him be a San Francisco 49er," Harbaugh said at the league's annual meeting. "So it's definitely a high priority. He's an amazing individual, an amazing player."
Harbaugh then explained why he thought Kaepernick was deserving of a deal.
"He shows up at work all the time," he said. "There's really no one that competes with him in a workout situation. He will bury everybody. And then when somebody tries to compete with him, he ramps his competitiveness up, and somebody's over their knee throwing up. He's unbelievable. So you can tell I feel he's a great player, a high priority."
The price tag for a starting quarterback begins at $18 million a season, which is what the Cowboys' Tony Romo and the Bears' Jay Cutler received in deals struck within the last two years. Kaepernick is scheduled to earn $1.073 million in 2014, the final year in his original four-year contract. Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, by comparison, is scheduled to earn $2.011 million this season.
The two sides first began discussing an extension at the scouting combine last month. It's not known whether those talks will continue in Orlando, although the 49ers' top negotiator, team president Paraag Marathe, is in town.
Gabbert and McLeod Bethel-Thompson are the only other quarterbacks on the roster. The 49ers could add a quarterback in the draft, and Harbaugh has attended recent workouts for Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas.
Three years ago, Harbaugh watched Gabbert, who eventually would be taken 10th overall by the Jaguars, work out at the University of Missouri. "Another really good player," Harbaugh said. "And where he was picked in the draft was evidence of that."
Still, he said the 49ers, who had the seventh overall pick that season, never intended to take Gabbert in that spot. In fact, they had no plans to take a quarterback anywhere in the first round that year. Why not?
"That was something we'd talked about as an organization and, really, we personally made that promise to Alex Smith - that we weren't going draft a quarterback at No. 7," Harbaugh said.
At the time, the 49ers had every intention of signing Smith, who was then a free agent, but they could not do so until July because of the lockout. The 49ers ended up taking Gabbert's Missouri teammate, Aldon Smith, at pick No. 7 and then trading up nine spots in the second round to take Kaepernick with the 36th overall pick.
Kaepernick took over the starting role the following season after Smith suffered a concussion. And early in 2013 the 49ers traded Smith to Kansas City for two second-round draft picks.
As for Gabbert, Harbaugh said the quarterback reminded him of Glenn Dorsey, another Top 10 draft pick who fell short of expectations with his original team, the Chiefs. The 49ers signed Dorsey as a free agent last year, and he started 13 games at nose tackle. Said Harbaugh of Gabbert: "He can write a new chapter and has the ability to say, 'It wasn't me, it was my situation.'"
-- Matt Barrows