There is nothing noble about the team that inevitably signs Colin Kaepernick
Here's the irrefutable truth for those who continue to insist the NFL isn't blackballing Kaepernick
At some point, amid a small but vocal backlash, the platitudes will come. Some owner will be lauded for being "gutsy" enough to sign Colin Kaepernick. Or he will be applauded for being "progressive" enough to sign the overly qualified backup quarterback. We'll likely hear about this team not being a sheep, and breaking from the NFL herd, which is often tainted by backward groupthink anyway.
I wouldn't believe much of it.
Whenever some team is desperate enough to sign a 29-year-old former Super Bowl quarterback who thinks beyond himself and is on a quest to try to make his community, and the world, a better place, it will be a business decision. Pure and simple. Whenever Kaepernick is extended a contract offer, it won't be because some organization has reached a point where it is now willing to send a signal to the rest of the league about what is right or wrong, or what should or should not be held against a qualified potential employee. It won't be because some owner now sees the inherent hypocrisy of teams welcoming in a stream of rookies with or at a time when a quarterback with a lifetime rating of 88.9 with 85 combined total touchdowns to 30 interceptions can't get a phone call from a general manager.
It will be because Kaepernick was seen as the last, perhaps only, thing between salvaging a season and it falling into the abyss. It's clear now that Kaepernick is only going to be signed once he's viewed as the last man standing in the weak and tattered backup quarterback market, and the fact that this will come months after guys like Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, EJ Manuel and Case Keenum were given another shot is downright preposterous. While the league's collective decision to turn its back on Kaepernick, after his stance regarding police brutality and kneeling during the national anthem last season, is clearly in large degree political, let's not pretend that whichever team loses its starting passer and eventually pays Kaepernick to play football is making anything other than a business decision.
The time to make a political statement of any sort regarding Kaepernick and his right to free speech and protected protest has long passed. Had someone stepped to the fore months ago, when guys like Matt Barkley and Landry Jones were getting multiyear deals, then maybe an owner could take a bow for breaking free from the apparent statement being made in regards to one's right to expression in the NFL. Seeing the Arizona Cardinals extend a contract to Blaine Gabbert, the embodiment of NFL quarterback privilege for some -- over-drafted, an absolute failure as a starting quarterback in several locales and who finally lost his job to Kaepernick in San Francisco a year ago despite anyone in a position of power in that franchise trying to prop him up as long as possible -- .
Kaepernick can barely get anyone to kick his tires and make an exploratory phone call, despite still having a huge arm and athletic upside and better accomplishments than virtually any quarterback signed this offseason -- including Mike Glennon at $18.5 million guaranteed in the first year of his deal with Chicago. Sorry folks, this ain't just about football. Hardly.
As I pointed out early in this offseason when writing about Kaepernick, his career rating of 88.9 is 15th best in the NFL since 2011, when he entered the league, which puts him ahead of guys like Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill. Yeah, ahead of some of the league's media darlings. He has 72 touchdown passes in 69 career games. For his career, Kaepernick has an interception percentage of just 1.8, which is behind only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Alex Smith (yeah, the guy he beat out in San Francisco as a youngster). Pretty elite company.
Is he the most accurate passer in the league? Nope. You would prefer he be better than 60 percent. But his body of work, even last season -- when he managed to account for 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions on a horrible 49ers team -- is far superior to what we are seeing other, less "controversial" quarterbacks be rewarded for in the market. And in the meantime, while Kaepernick makes service trips and donates millions and stays out of trouble and isn't seen partying or hitting a cop or being accused of striking a female, others who have major red flags get that nice big bear hug from Roger Goodell on draft day, or at least a cozy phone call from an NFL owner, or general manager or head coach.
Funny how that works.
And in the meantime, an entire cottage industry emerges regarding faux reasons why an NFL team can't possibly sign this quarterback, . It seems like some in the Bay Area can't just let this one go. After so many years of trying to impugn the quarterback's character through half-true-at-best leaks, I suppose old habits die hard. So we might as well sort through some of that as well while we're at it, as troubling as it is to wade into these muddy waters.
Was Kaepernick, early in his career, the model teammate? No. He was shy and introverted and wore his earphones around the hallways of the team facility and turned some veterans off. He was immature and came out of obscurity from a small college program and like a lot of young quarterbacks he had growing up to do. He found his conscience and he found his voice and he handled what was a bitter and ugly situation in San Francisco a year ago -- one instigated by management -- with aplomb despite smears about everything from the extent of his many injuries to his work ethic. The inferior Gabbert played for weeks on end ahead of him, and nary a bad word from the backup.
Is Kaepernick trying to sign a massive contract? Um, no. In fact, he has never even gotten into any substantive talks with NFL teams, so the very fact that there are alleged contract demands from him making the rounds in media reports for weeks is shady. This kid is giving away money left and right to the homeless and at-risk kids and to lead an aid mission to Somalia … but now I'm supposed to believe he is hell-bent on making $12 million per year or else. Please. His representatives are well aware of what the market constraints are, particularly at this point with the real money long ago spent in free agency and every GM operating under a tighter budget now. Would it make sense to take a $1 million deal, plus incentives? Hell no. But had someone come at him with an offer in the range of Brian Hoyer or Josh McCown, there would have been plenty to talk about.
Would Kaepernick just prefer to roam the earth anyway, like David Carradine in "Kung Fu," walking barefoot from town to town to solve social injustices with his mind, body and/or soul? Come on, man. Consider the motives of the people who spread this stuff around, especially if they are in the proximity of Santa Clara, California. Yes, Kaepernick clearly has a worldview that goes beyond his next endorsement deal -- heaven forbid! -- and he long ago gave the back of his hand to the NFL's lust for overly corporate, buttoned up, CEO quarterbacks who serve as fiscal extensions of the league's pursuit of profits. But that doesn't mean he loves football any less.
Football is a vehicle to affect change and impact the youth, and if a guy like Jim Harbaugh of all people thought Kaepernick was some sort of phony, exploiting the game for his own gain with a true love of it, he wouldn't be campaigning this hard for his former pupil. No one should be surprised that there was a significant backlash, especially in this sport, for what Kaepernick did last season. But let's also not pretend that he is naïve or some sort of stooge. He knew his life was about to get a lot more complicated and he made the difficult decision. Whatever you think of his politics, he was willing to put his mind above his wallet.
And let's also not pretend that Kaepernick hasn't already paid a price. Without him taking a knee, no way the NFL market speaks out as definitively as it did in March, when millions were being thrown around by the second on marginal or speculative talent at every position on the roster, to say nothing of the most important position in all of team sports. If this were a run-of-the-mill legal matter, no way the market speaks this consistently. Think back to how much humiliation the Browns were willing to endure to try to keep Johnny Manziel on the field every Sunday -- despite the domestic abuse issues and him being MIA at times -- and that for a far lesser player who had never accomplished anything in the pro game.
The idea that there would be coordinated public protests against a team, if some needy franchise had signed Kaepernick for $6 million plus incentives as a potential starting quarterback in March, is ludicrous. He played last season and while some in the media tried to blame him for everything from the results of an election to the NFL's sagging television ratings, the reality is all of that was far larger than him and there were no large-scale uprisings at NFL games against him. And there is a long time between March and September. Sorry, I refuse to believe Kaepernick merits being an NFL pariah for this.
Blaming and shaming is easy, and in this vulnerable situation Kaepernick was -- and is -- an obvious target.
And in the aftermath of 2016, despite Kaepernick apologizing for some comments and clarifying his stance (this never, ever, ever had anything to do with the military, but that's all many people seem to believe it was ever about), the easy thing for NFL teams to do was the pretend he wasn't an unrestricted free agent at all. The easy thing to do is pay has-beens or never-will-bes a few million to hold a clipboard and never even call Kaepernick's agents. Just ignore him … and maybe he will go away.
Except, it's still very early. Teams haven't even put the shells on for OTAs. Injuries are inevitable and they will come and possibly they will come in droves. And with Tony Romo and Jay Cutler opting for the broadcast booth, Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick are clearly, without doubt, the two best options out there (after that were talking Robert Griffin III and Thad Lewis and Christian Ponder, and, gulp, Charlie Whitehurst).
Somewhere, at some time, someone is going to need Colin Kaepernick. Badly. Eventually the reality of what he has been on the field will matter more than any interpretations of his constitutional expressions. Suddenly, with a season potentially in the balance, a call will come with real money on the line to quarterback a football team. Kaepernick is, sadly, one injury away from becoming an NFL commodity again.
And when that happens, let's just call it what it is -- another NFL transaction in the ultimate league of attrition. It won't be a cause célèbre. It won't be worthy of fawning or praise. It won't be about anyone all of a sudden finding a social conscience or considering some bigger picture beyond football. Frankly, it won't be about any feeling or emotion at all: It will simply be about trying to win football games.
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