Is Colin Kaepernick being blackballed by the NFL?

There is a double standard in the NFL…It’s just not the one you are thinking of. Many people are dumbfounded as to why Colin Kaepernick has not signed with a team.  Is it his vegan diet? Is money the issue? Is it his social and political stances or is it that he just isn’t good enough to even be a backup quarterback in today’s NFL?  Unfortunately in this NFL news-hungry, media driven offseason, this is what we have to talk about. So which is it? Let’s take a deeper look.

Before we go any further, can we all just agree that Colin Kaepernick not playing in the NFL has nothing to do with his diet? Of all the reasons floated out there, this one is the most preposterous. Let’s not forget this is a league that employed the 290 pound plus Jared Lorenzen (AKA “The Hefty Lefty”) for 5 years as a quarterback. I think on-field production will always supersede diet, not to mention that superstar QB Tom Brady also reportedly follows a strict vegan diet during the season.

So to start off this discussion, let’s re-iterate why the man who once reigned supreme in San Francisco is now fighting for his life just to find a job as a backup quarterback position. No longer is Kaepernick thought of as being the franchise quarterback and face of a team that he once was thought to be.  The 2012 and 2013 seasons ended up being the pinnacle of the “wildcat offense” and the read-option, the high-point of the intentional running quarterback age. Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin and Colin Kaepernick baffled defensive coordinators with their ability to pass, hand the ball off or take it themselves depending on what the defense gave them. It slightly tilted the league for a time, but slowly NFL defenses began to find ways to game-plan for it and force these running quarterbacks to throw the ball.  Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, while both being erratic at times, proved to be more than sufficient passers. While Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin, when asked to sit in a pocket and throw the ball, struggled to be consistent and accurate.

Since 2012 Colin Kaepernick has found himself near the bottom of the NFL rankings for nearly every passing statistic, including completion percentage, QB rating, yards per attempt and passing yards. In 2016, out of 30 quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts, only four had a lower completion percentage than Kaepernick’s 59.2 percent. Thus his passing inaccuracy, a few injuries, and a LOT of losses have placed him in the precarious bottom third of the league-wide QB hierarchy.  Unfortunately those spots are usually reserved for young and promising talent, of which Kaepernick is neither.  While it is possible for a quarterback to make a career out of floating around that bottom third of the league, there is one commonality among those that do…they can all sling it (Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick). The league does not have a place for a 29-year old starting quarterback whose predominant strength is his legs and major weakness is his accuracy. Just ask Tim Tebow, who is only three months Kaepernick’s senior but is currently playing baseball for the Columbia Fireflies after being cut from three NFL teams. Like Tebow before him, Kaepernick now finds himself trying to convince teams he still has something to offer and is left fighting for his NFL life just to secure a back-up spot.

So is money the reason nobody has signed Kaepernick? Well we really can only speculate as to why, but let’s look at what we do know. While there have been reports that Kap wanted $9-10 million a season, no team has come out saying he has actually made this demand.  Though realistically it’s hard to imagine a scenario where any NFL team will pay Kaepernick over $4-6 million a year to be their second-string quarterback, the New York Jets did just sign journey-man Josh McCown for $6 million guaranteed. During the ’16 season, only 29 quarterbacks (there are 32 teams) made over $5 million annually. In today’s salary-cap strapped era, most teams pay their back-up quarterbacks the league-minimum, with the average #2 quarterback salary in the NFL being around $2.1 million a season.  Currently Kaepernick’s net-worth is roughly $25 million and in March he chose to void his contract with the 49ers, leaving over $14 million in injury guarantees for the 2017 season on the table. In other words, he doesn’t need, or seem to want, starting quarterback money to have a comfortable life. This would lead you to believe the rumors that money was what kept the Seattle Seahawks from signing Kaepernick are not true.

So this brings us to the giant elephant in the room…Is Colin Kaepernick currently unemployed because of his political and deemed unpatriotic stances? Or is it that he just isn’t good enough? I think it is a combination of both. Is he being blackballed? No. The NFL is a league unconditionally notorious for employing anyone and everyone that can help a team win and win now, regardless of their off-the-field behavior. The list is long and full of superstars that made headlines outside of football and still managed to secure an NFL career. Here are a few you may remember:

For the sake of argument, let us focus on the media blitz that surrounded these players during their allegations as opposed to the nature or guilt of their said crime. I know Colin Kaepernick has done nothing to harm humans or animals!

Ray Lewis: Alleged Murder
Ben Roethlisberger: Sexual Assault…Twice
Michael Vick: Dog Fighting
Greg Hardy: Domestic Violence

These are just a few of the many players who managed to stay in the league despite the cloud of controversy that was gathering around them. These 4 players combined for 25 Pro-Bowl selections, 8 All-Pro selections and 3 Superbowl Championships. Ironically, 15 of those Pro-Bowl selections, 4 of the All-Pro selections and 2 of the Superbowl Championships came after their re-instatement in the league.

Many things factor in to what makes a good back-up quarterback for an NFL franchise; money, ability, versatility and what kind of teammate they are. Those are all desired qualities, but a backup quarterbacks’ most important contribution is his ability to come to the starting QB’s rescue, even if only for a play, but often times for a game or two. He needs to have a complete grasp of the offense, be able to read a defense, audible to the correct play, command the huddle and know the game plan start to finish.  He must often times do this after taking relatively few practice snaps all week.   That is why experience tends to trump all of the other talents in a backup quarterback.  Someone who has fought in the NFL fox-holes before can radiate composure and confidence for a team that has just lost its field-General.  These are all attributes that come with experience.  Experience is also something that Colin Kaepernick possesses in spades.

The best statistical indicator of game experience is games started. Last year in the NFL there were only 4 back-up quarterbacks that had started more games than Colin Kaepernick’s 58.  Josh McCown (60), has made a living out of being a reliable back-up quarterback, Mark Sanchez (72), who was once hailed as the Jets heir-apparent, Matt Cassel (80), was given the keys to the Chiefs’ organization from 2009-2012 and Matt Schaub (92), a very solid –middle of the pack- starter for over a decade.  Mark Sanchez is the only one among those 4 who has started as many playoff games (6) as Kaepernick.  They both were 4-2 in the playoffs, but Kaepernick can boast of his Superbowl appearance which none of these others possess.

So in a nut-shell, Colin Kaepernick does not possess the accuracy and youthful upside to hang around the bottom third of the NFL as a starter.  He does however possess what most teams are looking for in a top of the line back-up quarter back.  So why isn’t he?

Colin Kaepernick is not good ENOUGH on the field for a team to inherit his perceived drama or at least the audience it attracts. We have already concluded that what you do off the field will not necessarily end your career, but the risk has got to be worth the reward for an NFL franchise to accept the scrutiny and backlash that is sure to follow. When Ray Rice was first convicted of aggravated assault, the league suspended him for 2 games. It wasn’t until the video of him knocking out his girlfriend surfaced nearly 2 months later that the NFL suspended him indefinitely. It was at that time, when the video was released, that Ray Rice’s off-field drama had exceeded his value. Do you think Adrian Peterson would still be playing in the league if there were videos of him laying a switch to his kid?

As mentioned before, Tim Tebow did nothing personally to deserve his exodus from football. Surely if Blaine Gabbert can find a home in the NFL on a continuous basis, there has got to be a place for a talent such as Tim Tebow? Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, Tim Tebow’s unwavering Christian faith has made him somewhat of an icon. People flock to see him hold a clip board. He quickly became the most popular (and polarizing) player for nearly every team he played for. Usually if your back-up quarterback is garnering more attention than everyone else (negative or positive) on the team, your system has flaws. Teams don’t want the focus of every reporter’s question to be about their backup QB, and Tebow’s skill-set was not good enough to overcome all of the distractions and media attention that came with his almost-fanatical following.  Though very different, Kaepernick and Tebow’s situation mirror each other in a very peculiar way.

Colin Kaepernick is entitled to his opinion, and obviously he is welcomed in this country to take a stand –uhhum or a knee…for what he believes is right. Unfortunately for Colin Kaepernick, his level of play must increase at the same rate as the level of negativity and drama he creates. The stances he has taken, whether you agree with them or not, have significantly alienated rather large sections of NFL fan bases around the Country.  Any team that signs him is subject to boycotting and un-wanted negative attention from their own fanbase as well as the national media. Just ask New York Giants’ owner John Mara. All this noise and distraction is just not worth it for a back-up quarterback, especially an expensive one, when a team can fill the spot with a cheaper and relatively obscure option.

Sadly the real double standard is this…If you are good enough, the NFL and its fans will over-look almost anything. The problem is, Colin Kaepernick is just not good enough.


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