A few years ago, Colin Kaepernick was considered one of the league’s top young stars. He was leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl, and Ron Jaworski was raving about how he might be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game.
Things have slowly unraveled since then. He remained the Niners’ starter in 2013 and 2014, but then struggled in 2015, eventually getting benched for Blaine Gabbert of all people. And then he took a knee during the national anthem and all hell broke loose.
Does he deserve another shot to be an NFL starter? And is he still jobless because of his play on the field or because of his political opinions off of it?
John: I’ve always had mixed feelings about Colin Kaepernick. He’s not your prototypical NFL passer like an Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning, but he certainly can be dynamic when he’s on his game.
That stretch run in 2012 was extraordinary, and we saw some flashes of that old Kap after he got back into the starting lineup last year. He threw 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 12 games, while logging an impressive 90.7 passer rating. Plus, he again showed the ability to change a game with his legs, rushing for 113 yards in a game against Miami.
Is Kaepernick a strong NFL starter? No. Will he ever be? Probably not. But if Case Keenum and Matt Barkley were good enough to start multiple games in 2016, there’s certainly a place for Kap in this league.
A team like the Browns, Jets or 49ers could do a lot worse than signing Kaepernick to an incentive-laden contract a year or two while developing their quarterback of the future. And if you’re the Jags, why not take a flier on a guy like Kap to put a little pressure on a disappointing Blake Bortles?
Andy: Hmm. I’m not going to pretend I’m a huge Kaepernick fan. I prefer the traditional pocket passer who can survey the field and pick defenses apart. While I respect his right to protest in favor of his beliefs, I also personally prefer he find a different way to express those opinions than kneeling for the national anthem.
That said, Colin Kaepernick’s extended stay on the unemployment line confuses me.
Yes, he was bad – and looked confused – through most of 2015. Yes, it seemed like the 49ers couldn’t wait to cut bait on him, even after a semi-resurgent 2016.
But this is a guy who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and an NFC Championship game in 2013. This is a guy who single-handedly kept Green Bay from making the Super Bowl on a couple of occasions. This is a guy who is capable of changing games.
This, in a league where guys like Case Keenum (9), Matt Barkley (6), Cody Kessler (8), Trevor Siemian (14), Blaine Gabbert (5), Jared Goff (7), Robert Griffin III (5), Brock Osweiler (14), Ryan Fitzpatrick (11), Bryce Petty (4), Blake Bortles (16) and the ancient Josh McCown (3) started, or would have started if not for injury, a significant number of games in 2016.
Colin Kaepernick can’t get even the sniff of a roster spot as a backup when guys like Scott Tolzein, Shaun Hill, Matt Cassel, Charlie Whitehurst and any number more are still out there getting jobs holding clipboards? Something’s significantly wrong here. Even if teams have figured out a way to semi-cover the read-option game that made Kaepernick so dangerous, he’s better than some of the recycled scrubs some teams run out as a number two.
John: No doubt. Kap is a legit NFL quarterback and significantly better than some of the uninspiring retreads who have already landed contracts this offseason. (Geno Smith, really?!)
So that raises the question of whether NFL teams are blackballing Kaepernick for his political activism. My take: No, they’re not… But it’s complicated.
I doubt any team has completely written him off simply because he kneeled during the anthem. Rather, I think the problem is that Kap is a tweener. Several teams have signed veteran backups, and several more would trip over themselves at the chance to sign a surefire starter like Tony Romo. The tweeters simply get lost in the shuffle. (Let’s not forget that Jay Cutler is still searching for work, too. Is that collusion?)
Kap isn’t consistent enough to rely on as your starter but too good (and expensive) to just tote a clipboard. He’s the kind of guy you bring in to compete for a starting job, and there aren’t many teams in the market for a guy like that.
Ultimately, that’s where the anthem protest might become a factor. If a team views him merely as a backup, do they really want to deal with the “distraction” of his political views? Call it the Tebow factor. Could he still be a third-string quarterback somewhere? Sure, but coaches don’t want to spend half their press conferences talking about a backup QB. Same is true for Kap.
Finally, it’s important to remember that we don’t have all of the facts right now. For all we know, Kap is insisting on a starting job or wants to be the league’s highest-paid backup. He’s going to find a job somewhere–likely as a top backup. But we might have to wait a few more weeks (perhaps until after the draft) to find out where.
Andy: See, I disagree a bit that he’s not consistent enough to be a starter in this league. When he’s on, he’s a middle-of-the-pack to top-third level QB. Now, I do agree that consistency is an issue with him. But that upside alone is enough where several teams should be seeing him as an upside over the dregs they are bringing to the table.
Houston is the rumored eventual landing spot for Tony Romo. Would you rather have a broken down Romo and the risk that he might get hurt yet again? Would you rather have Tom Savage? You mentioned Jay Cutler – many accounts have reported that he’s kind of a dickbag.
Similar reports came out on Brock Osweiler, and that, along with his mediocre-at-best play account for him being jettisoned after one dreadful year as a starter. The accounts on Kaepernick from 49ers players seem to indicate that while the anthem protest was controversial, he’s generally a good teammate.
Kaepernick should be seen as an upgrade over what this team fielded last year. And this is a team with deep playoff aspirations. Sure, he’s unconventional and, perhaps, a bit controversial. So what. Romo, for all his talent, is old and broken down. Kaepernick has been a winner on good teams. Get this guy a contract.