Eleven days after the start of NFL free agency, quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned and people are angry about it.
Spike Lee believes the fact that Kaepernick, who has played for the 49ers since 2011, is unsigned “smells mad fishy.” There are more than a few people who believe Kaepernick’s lack of a contract is a grand NFL conspiracy — Kaepernick is being blackballed for his National Anthem protests last season.
That’s misplaced energy.
There’s no grand conspiracy against Kaepernick. He’s just a bad quarterback, and bad quarterbacks don’t get breaks.
This isn’t to say that Kaepernick’s protests couldn’t play a role in his unemployment — there are certainly NFL teams that carry vitriol toward him. (One executive told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman that Kaepernick was “an embarrassment to football” at the Combine.) But that vitriol is also misplaced energy.
Any front-office conversation about Kaepernick must begin with his poor play — he showed some flashes of the player he once was last year, but nowhere near enough to override all the bad film he’s amassed in the last two seasons.
NFL teams will overlook or justify just about anything for a player with good tape. If Kaepernick were a solid, reliable quarterback, there’d be multiple NFL teams looking to sign him and spin his protests as part of his track record of positive activism.
It’d be an easy sell. Kaepernick has done nothing but good since he started his protests. The fact that people are offended by him is their problem — he’s broken no law in his efforts to bring awareness to serious issues. Since the protests started, Kaepernick might have said things that people disagree with, but his actions speak louder — a few days ago he helped secure a plane to take 60 tons of food to famished Somalia, and he’s donated $100,000 a month to organizations working in oppressed communities as part of his $1 million pledge. He’s also funding a “Know Your Rights” campaign for young people to “raise awareness on higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”
That’s a lot of good that any sane person can get behind.
The 49ers certainly had no problem backing Kaepernick’s causes last year — the team matched the quarterback’s $1 million pledge.
But right now Kaepernick is Tim Tebow . Both men should be lauded for their activism, even if you don’t agree with the impetus for that activism, and both are bad quarterbacks who won playoff games in this decade.
Kaepernick is hardly the only quarterback who started an NFL game last year who doesn’t have a job. Jay Cutler, who went 51-51 as the quarterback of the Bears, is available, as is Robert Griffin, a 2012 Pro Bowler. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t have a contract for next season, nor does Case Keenum or Blaine Gabbert (the latter started ahead of Kaepernick in San Francisco last year).
Teams could also sign Chase Daniel or Christian Ponder if they’re looking for a viable NFL backup quarterback.
Teams don’t lack quarterback options in free agency, and right now there are certainly better quarterbacks to be signed than Kaepernick. It’s as simple as that.
The places where Kaepernick could go are dwindling by the day, as well, and we haven’t even factored in the 15-plus quarterbacks who could be drafted onto rosters at the end of April.
If Kaepernick were a viable NFL starting quarterback we might be able to cite his protests and the negative reaction to them as a reason he’s currently unsigned, but right now, it’s a straw man argument obscuring the fact that there’s a robust list of available quarterbacks who are objectively better than Kaepernick.
Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that the issue of Kaepernick’s off-field “baggage” has come up in any serious way with teams — there’s not exactly a line of franchises looking to add a quarterback who was 30th in the league in defense-adjusted yards above replacement last year and 35th the year before that.
If there’s suddenly a bunch of empty roster spots and not enough quarterbacks to fill them and Kaepernick still isn’t getting calls, then we can discuss him being blackballed. Until then, he’s just a quarterback who can’t ball.