There are competing theories on why former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed.
One school of thought blames the lack of interest on Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem last season. The other camp claims that the free agent is unwanted based on his performance the last two years.
Both sides have a point, but one more than the other.
If Kaepernick played at an MVP-level in 2016, he would be courted by several teams. That’s NFL hypocrisy at its finest, where owners’ outrage is mitigated by players’ output on a sliding scale. And we’re usually talking about criminal cases involving drugs or violence, not political stands like taking a knee in protest of police brutality.
He clearly isn’t the same quarterback who led the 49ers to a Super Bowl in 2012. According to ESPN State & Information, Kaepernick ranks last in the NFL among 35 qualified passers in off-target throws (22.6 percent) since the start of the 2015 season. His completion percentage ranks No. 32 at 59.1
Not only is Kaepernick older (29) and more-worn (past surgeries on left shoulder, left knee and right thumb), the NFL has moved past the read-option scheme that made him wildly successful. Like Robert Griffin III – another 2012 sensation who’s looking for a job – Kaepernick’s skill-set hasn’t developed as quickly and seamlessly as teams would hope.
He’s also not the only free-agent QB still without a team. Former Bears starter Jay Cutler hasn’t latched on yet and neither has former New York Jets starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Teams were never going to rush to sign Kaepernick when free agency began. If anything, he was destined to be a late addition after the draft, when training camp rosters are finalized.
However, there’s no denying that his controversial activism has curbed enthusiasm that otherwise would exist.
An anonymous AFC general manager told Bleacher Report that a majority of teams “genuinely hate him and can’t stand what he did. They want nothing to do with him. They won’t move on. They think showing no interest is a form of punishment. I think some teams also want to use Kaepernick as a cautionary tale to stop other players in the future from doing what he did.”
The GM said a handful of teams are concerned about the backlash from fans if he’s signed: “They think there might be protests or [President Donald] Trump will tweet about the team.”
He hasn’t taken to Twitter about Kaepernick. But the Commander-in-Chief let all 32 NFL teams and everyone else know he’s aware and his thumbs are poised to strike. During a speaking engagement Monday, a rally in Louisville to drum up support for the Republican health care bill, Trump digressed to mention “your San Francisco quarterback.
“It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” he said. “Do you believe that? I said I’m going to report to the people of Kentucky, because they like it when people actually stand for the American flag, right?”
The crowd cheered wildly. It wouldn’t be a surprise if some attendees were among the number who said Kaepernick led them to quit watching football last season. Who knows, maybe someone in the throng issued one of the many death threats the quarterback received.
When you consider the marginal signal-callers who were signed since free agency began, Kaepernick looks more like a victim of blackballing and less like a quarterback with flaws. Mike Glennon, Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer, Nick Foles, Geno Smith and Matt Barkley are gainfully employed. Even with the falloff from his heyday, Kaepernick is as good or better than those suspects and rejects.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Kaepernick’s QB rating (55.2) and his adjusted yards per attempt (7.2) made him an above-average quarterback last season. He posted the lowest interception rate of his career (1.2 percent) and the second-highest touchdown rate (4.8 percent). Over his final four games, he completed 68.7 percent of his passes for 199 yards per game.
Granted, he’s not great. But those numbers, plus his past success, make him good enough to hold a clipboard on many teams and compete for the starting job on some.
“I think he’s an outstanding player and I think he’s a great competitor who has proven it in games and has the ability to be not only and NFL starter but a great NFL player,” former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday on PFT Live.
All of that might be well and true. But it’s no match for an “anti-America” label, especially given the current climate of raging nationalism, xenophobia and racism.
Kaepernick would have to play like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers to easily shake his stigma. Whether it’s an outright conspiracy or an outbreak of fear, teams are passing on a quarterback just four years removed from a Super Bowl.
His statistics are nothing more than a convenient – and see-through – excuse.