There are too few quality quarterbacks, and too much demand for them, and there is more than enough on Kaepernick’s resume to provide him a chance to throw a football for a living again. I’m not naïve enough to ignore the fact that his decision to kneel for the national anthem during the 2017 NFL season and his comments about police brutality won’t be held against him by certain owners. It will. In some places more than others.
This is ultimately an ownership decision when the backup quarterback involved has become an international figure of controversy. And in the uber-corporate climate of the NFL, those perceived knocks can, at times, weigh much more against someone than, say, if a more coveted player had a criminal record. Those perceived slights can work against a player’s chances of finding a job far more than, say, his willingness to part with $1 million or more for charitable causes or his ability to coordinate a relief flight to Somalia.
But at some point this offseason, as quarterbacks get injured or some prospects fizzle or some coach finally breaks down his owner to take a chance on Kaepernick, there has to be a chance for the former 49ers QB to be on a 90-man roster somewhere. Right? I agree with Spike Lee that Kaepernick not being on a roster right now is “mad fishy,” but it’s also not a surprise to me given the way the league operates. If he’s not on a roster by August we’ll be well beyond fishy and into something else with a far stronger scent.
The more I think about it, the more I believe the Raiders would make a lot of sense. I can’t help but wonder if Hue Jackson in Cleveland would find some clay there worth trying to mold further. And while some are talking about the Jets, given their most overt need at the quarterback position, I frankly don’t see that developing for myriad reasons.
But why not the Raiders?
They only have two quarterbacks under contract right now -- star starter Derek Carr, who is recovering from injury -- and developmental quarterback Connor Cook, who they drafted last year. I’d totally get it if they brought veteran Matt McGloin back -- he’s been there for a while and can win games for you in a pinch -- but the fact that we are weeks into free agency now and McGloin remains un-signed leads me to at least mull the possibility of Kaepernick.
The Raiders are suddenly in win-now mode, with a return to the playoffs a legit expectation, and given Carr is coming off injury, I’d want to have a proven NFL quarterback as my No. 2. The Raiders have long been a franchise that welcomed those viewed as unwanted elsewhere. It’s tied to the very essence of longtime owner Al Davis, and in their DNA. Mark Davis would be acting very much in his father’s image if he did sign Kaepernick.
Kaepernick is already well known in the Bay Area, it’s where his charity work is focused, and there would be no initial shock or dismay if he were to sign in Oakland. He’s already established in that market; no faux media outrage. Minimal pushback, right?
Even when he was taking a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner,” it seemed to draw much more ire nationally than it did locally there. And now, the quarterback has already let it be known that he’s no longer going to be doing anything outside the norm before games, anyway. I wouldn’t stop at pursuing Marshawn Lynch in hopes of upgrading my backfield depth and I’d keep Kaepernick in the Bay, too. If the Raiders do land the former Pro Bowl running back, however, I can’t imagine it’s for close to the $9M he would be scheduled to earn on his existing deal with the Seahawks.
It’s been a long time since Kaepernick had anything close to a decent cast around him. It’s been a long time since he was in a remotely stable situation that wasn’t tainted by in-fighting and political struggles between coaches and management/ownership and was given a fair opportunity to compete for a job in the offseason based on merit, and doing so while remotely healthy.
And while there were certainly ample moments in the last two seasons when Kaepernick struggled mightily and looked out of sorts, I’d point out that it was the case with basically everyone on that 49ers roster. The messy one-year regimes of Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, and the aftermath of the fallout with former coach Jim Harbaugh, did no one any favors. And, yeah, the 2015 season was really rough -- 8 starts, 6 TDs, 5 INTs, 78.5 rating -- but I’d point out that Kaepernick was never truly healthy in that lost season for the 49ers. It’s also become far too cavalier a cliché to disparage everything the veteran has done recently on the football field.
Last season, again for a brutally bad offense, Kaepernick ended up with 16 TDs to just 4 INTs and a rating of 90.7 in 12 games, including 11 starts. Newsflash: There are quarterbacks who have never and will never attain those stats who get signed all the time in the NFL. To say nothing of the superior athleticism and elite running ability Kaepernick still possesses. Oh, and at age 29, he’s hardly over the hill.
Since 2011, when Kaepernick was drafted, his quarterback rating is 88.9, placing him 15th in the league in that span, right with Andy Dalton. He’s far ahead of guys like Andrew Luck and Eli Manning and Cam Newton and Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill and Jay Cutler, I might add. Would inquiring general managers prefer he had more than 72 career passing touchdowns in 69 career games? Sure. Ideally, would GMs prefer Kaepernick be a little higher than a 60-percent passer? Yeah. But Kaepernick also has 13 rushing touchdowns and a career rushing average over six-yards per carry, I’d point out.
And he also has done a tremendous job of protecting the football. His interception percentage of 1.8 is fourth in the NFL since Kaepernick entered the league, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Alex Smith. That’s fairly high company there. And while Kaepernick had some growing up to do in terms of maturity and leadership over the years -- in the huddle and in the locker room -- it seems to me there was very strong support for him amid his peers in San Francisco last season.
It could take some time, to be sure, and clearly Kaepernick has plenty keeping him busy in the meantime as he works on humanitarian missions and takes a global approach to his micro situation. But you’ll never convince me that there are at least 64 quarterbacks available who are superior to him, much less 96 of them when you assume most teams will carry at least three quarterbacks for much of the spring and summer.
The numbers simply don’t add up and they never will. Eventually, he’ll be offered a chance to play again -- a modest contract, to be sure, but one that should include legit incentives -- and no matter where he winds up it has to be less toxic than San Francisco was this time a year ago. Staying in the Bay Area might be close to ideal. I have a pretty good idea what Al Davis might have done.