NFL owners need to stop making excuses and give Colin Kaepernick a chance
It's beyond time for an owner to get on the right side of history and explore if Kap might be worthy of bettering his roster
Best I can tell, there were three primary strawman arguments that NFL teams hid behind to try to justify their individual, and collective, boycott of Colin Kaepernick's services. And, best I can tell, with Nike's soaring sales and rising stock price in the aftermath of announcing their new Kaepernick apparel line and ad campaign last week, all three have now been effectively knocked down.
There never seemed to be much substance behind the narrative that Kaepernick's inability to land even a mere workout with an NFL team for nearly 18 months was somehow grounded in reasonable football sense or a modicum of business acumen. And with each passing week it must become more obvious, even to the ardent Kaepernick detractor, what's going on here. The empirical evidence keeps mounting, both on the field in the array of quarterbacking failures who have repeatedly donned NFL uniforms in preseason and regular-season games since the summer of 2017, and at the cash register in the case of Nike's 30th anniversary embrace of the former Super Bowl quarterback. Those trying to maintain that this is anything but an instance of a socially-conscious athlete/activist being blackballed for his political beliefs are running out of explanations.
Since Kaepernick became a free-agent following his release by the 49ers following the 2016 season, the case against him went something like this: He's not good enough to merit an NFL job, he doesn't really want to play football anyway, and probably isn't in shape to do so, and, if you sign him it will damage your bottom line and be this massive distraction because of all the fan backlash. The fact that NFL teams would employ over 100 quarterbacks each of the past two summers without Kaepernick getting a mere look-see made that argument seem specious enough, but it's time now to put this thoroughly to bed.
He's not good enough.
Okay, but Nathan Peterman and Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden and Ryan Mallett and Cooper Rush and Garrett Gilbert and Brock Osweiler and Blaine Gabbert supposedly were, and need I go on and on about all of the vagabond, journeymen and never-were's that have been employed during Kaepernick's banishment from the game? Have Peterman's three NFL starts alone – none of which he was able to complete – not gotten your attention (he had a 0.0 quarterback rating with no first downs in the first half before being benched, again, Sunday)? The fact the Robert Griffin III currently has an NFL job and Kaepernick hasn't had a chance to even throw for an NFL team speaks volumes.
To reiterate, Kaepernick for his career has 72 passing touchdowns to just 30 interceptions for 12,271 yards, an average of 7.3 yards/attempt and a rating of 88.9. He also has 13 rushing touchdowns and averages a gaudy 6.1 yards per carry. Since 2011, when Kaepernick entered the league, he still ranks quite high in many key metrics, despite starting no games as a rookie, just seven games in 2012, playing just half a season in 2015 due to injuries, making just 12 starts in 2016 (when Gabbert was allegedly a better option to open the season, and having not appeared in a game in 2017 or 2018).
Even with all of that missed time, since 2011, Kaepernick is tied for 14th in QB rating, tied with Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton (who each averaged $16M/year or more on their deals). He ranks just behind Tyrod Taylor and Matt Stafford in that category. Kaepernick's TD/interception ratio ranks 8th overall in the NFL since 2011 at 2.40, oh, you know, just behind a couple of stiffs named Peyton Manning (2.64) and Drew Brees (2.67).
Kaepernick ranks tied for 1st in interception percentage (1.4) since he entered the league, with the same percentage as a bunch of names I didn't recognize, but perhaps you've heard of them – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith and Tyrod Taylor. Is that good? Kaepernick ranks 21st overall in touchdown percentage (4.3), tied with Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, and Alex Smith, the guy he beat out for the 49ers starting job as a youngster and who now makes $27M/year. Kaepernick's 72 touchdown passes since 2011 still ranks 25th best in the NFL (despite making just 58 career starts and missing all that time). His 7.25 yards per attempt puts him in the top 25 as well. Just behind Smith (7.27) and Matthew Stafford (7.29).
Kaepernick's 13 rushing touchdowns since 2011 rank sixth among all quarterbacks (he has three less than Russell Wilson in that span in roughly 30 fewer games), and his 6.13 yards per attempt is second only to Blake Bortles in that span.
I am by no means saying Kaepernick is better than or as good as some of these names mentioned. I am saying, there is no argument to be made via the game film or the box scores that he does not warrant an opportunity to win a job.
He doesn't really want to play football.
Okay, then why is he in the best shape of his life? Why is he in an Uber at 5 a.m. most days from New York City to New Jersey to throw a ton of passes and work on his conditioning and speed and then back to the gym to lift? Why does he spend nearly every day with his personal trainer, Josh Hidalgo? Just to look really good in those Nike commercials that no one had any way of knowing were ever going to happen back in the spring of 2017 when Kaepernick began looking for another team to employ him?
He didn't set out looking for a collusion case. His agent, Jeff Nalley, hasn't called every NFL general manager over and over hoping all would turn him down for one reason or another. He wasn't the one who decided the Green Bay Packers would be perfectly fine with Brett Hundley trying to play quarterback nearly all of last season with Aaron Rodgers hurt. Not his fault the Texans preferred to roll with a combination of Tom Savage, TJ Yates and Taylor Heincke with Deshaun Watson lost for the season or the Titans thought it made sense to work out Weeden, Yates, Matt Barkley and Matt McGloin last October with Marcus Mariota yet again battling injury.
Had a single team sent a scout or official to check out Kaepernick, the word would be out on his arm strength, conditioning, 40-yard dash time, etc., not injury free and still just age 30 (youthful by QB standards for sure). But then again, that would make it even harder to continue perpetrating the notion that he isn't ready to play tackle football for a living, wouldn't it?
(As to the corollary to this particular strawman argument – He wants too much money – I'll remind you that, other than the Broncos asking Kaepernick to take a $5M paycut back in 2016 before he began any sideline protesting, not a single NFL team has made a contract offer or attempted to negotiate a deal. And, with this Nike deal in his pocket now, and for a man who gave away over $1M last year when he had no income, I'd dare suggest that this was, is and will be about things well beyond money. This is the same guy who risked his career to begin protesting in the first place).
It's bad for business.
Oh really? How's it working out for Phil Knight? You think he did this as a publicity stunt? It ain't warm and fuzzy in the Fortune 500, brother, it's just business – cutthroat business at that in sporting apparel – and Nike made this calculated decision to make money. And that they are doing. The surge in sales and the bounce in stock price and the burst of global attention and clicks and mentions all over the world on social media. Yeah, that happened. And its only just begun.
So let me get this straight – a company that could buy and sell the NFL with a brand that resonates much more far and wide than does professional American football – is totally comfortable with the prospect of Kaepernick in essence serving as "America's quarterback," for the exact purpose of selling products, but he isn't worthy of being given a shot of trying to be Nashville's backup quarterback or Green Bay's emergency quarterback? Riiiiight. Who really has more to risk? Knight's gamble, and resulting windfall, speaks volumes.
Sure, there are some lunatics burning their shoes … but catering to the lunatic fringe is a dangerous proposition. Is anyone picketing the Nike offices? How are things at the headquarters in Beaverton? Has the good publicity far outweighed the bad? For every outpost that tries to switch from Nike to some other outfitter, there are shirts and shoes flying off the shelves (the first edition of Kaepernick's jersey sold out almost immediately).
Say what you want about fan backlash, but go back to Mike Vick coming out of federal prison for dog fighting, and the roughly three days of a "distraction" that was before things at Eagles' headquarters were basically back to normal. Given the overall demographics of the NFL and all that has transpired since the start of the 2017 season – with Donald Trump's SOB comments and the continuing fallout – some QB-needy team giving Kaepernick a workout is going to divide an NFL locker room? When wife-beaters and child abusers and animal abusers have been given repeated chances? Please. Stop.
With the specter of this collusion trial hanging over the league office and several prominent NFL owners and coaches and execs, it's time to end the madness. System arbitrator Stephen Burbank has already decided Kaepernick's claims merit an exhaustive look in what would be an unprecedented forum in this sport when these billionaires are hauled into a room in Philadelphia to be examined by Kaepernick's legal team.
It's beyond time for an owner to get on the right side of history and explore if Kaepernick might be worthy of bettering his roster and maybe helping him win a football game or two at some point. Don't believe me? Give Phil Knight a call. Ask how it's working out for him.
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