Colin Kaepernick: The Real Reasons He Remains Unsigned

Colin Kaepernick was the center of controversy for the 2016 season and this offseason has been no different—but is that why he’s still a free agent?

Colin Kaepernick is simply polarizing. Even before his stance, or rather his kneel, against the national anthem, San Francisco 49ers fans were already split on the quarterback. Many fans continued to see a quarterback that led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. While others saw a limited passer who failed to develop into an above average quarterback.

Now, due to his protests, teams have an additional decision point to consider. On a superficial level it appears as if teams are avoiding him simply because of the backlash that would come from bringing a player with his reputation.

This is amplified by the fact that, in the first few days of 2017 free agency, players such as Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and Mike Glennon were signed rather quickly. It sends a message that teams were not interested in a quarterback who many perceive to be more “talented” than those who were signed before him even though he was freely available.

This is an over-simplified view of what teams are doing in regards to Kaepernick.

Which begs a few questions that, when answered honestly, provide clarity to the Kaepernick situation. With that, here are the real reasons—or maybe parts of the whole reason—as to why the quarterback remains unsigned.


Aug 29, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon (8) calls a play against the Cleveland Browns during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Cleveland Browns defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-7. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

First Wave of Free-Agent QB Signings

During the first wave of free agency, quarterback needy teams reached out and signed backup caliber quarterbackss. Both the Chicago Bears and the San Francisco 49ers dumped longtime starters in pursuit of a makeover at the position. As previously stated, in San Fran, most of the fan base had already become split on Kaepernick way before his social activism.

In Chicago’s case, the fan base became tired of Cutler’s inability to remain healthy and also partly due to the perception that he lacks the toughness.

Still, Cutler and Kaepernick are starter-level quarterbackss whose level of play is better than the list of QBs signed during the first wave of free agency. But, neither the Bears nor the 49ers were looking to re-sign Cutler or Kaepernick. Which is understandable.

Both clubs needed a fresh start and both Cutler and Kaepernick bring a negativity that they are trying to avoid in the first place. But, there are other teams who are in desparate need of a starting quarterbacks, like the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars. They should be kicking the tires on a quarterback whose been to the promised land, right?


Nov 19, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes II (5) throws a pass against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft

The influence that the media has on the public is astounding. That statement should surprise no one. Still, the level of “group think” that occurs this time of year is mind-boggling. Last season, the draft media machine had fans believing that no quarterbacks were worthy of being selected early in Round 1.

The same argument that is being made for this year—wait until next year’s class of QBs. The chatter will be more of the same. Truthfully, it is hilarious.

Teams simply do not care what the media reports nor what the fans want. They will make selections based off sound evaluations and logical roster decisions. Period. Again, last year draftniks were ripping on Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, only to see teams trade up to No. 1 and No. 2 draft them.

In the end, GMs will do what they think is best for their team. Some teams may decide to pass on a quarterback like the Browns did last year. They decided that next year would be better. Now, they are hearing the same thin—wait ’til next year…

As teams finalize their big boards, many will come to realize that they won’t be in a position to draft their guy at quarterback. They will then need to ask themselves, “Do we bring in Cutler, make a move for Romo, or sign Kaepernick?”

Jan 1, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) passes the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Tony Romo Waiting Game

When healthy, Tony Romo is a top-10 quarterback. Also true is that Romo will become available at some point this offseason. The question is how? Will he be traded or will he be released by the Cowboys? The prevailing thought is that the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans are the two front runners to land the highly-prized QB.

Nevertheless, there are probably other teams who would love to land Romo. There are usually cloak-and-dagger type of deals when it comes to offseason trades, especially as it applies to big-time quarterbacks like Romo.

One thing is for sure, though, teams will not make any moves for Romo nor will the Cowboys release him until after the 2017 NFL Draft. Which will also make it hard for Kaepernick to land  with a team needing a proven starter. Why? Because those teams will aim for Romo first, everyone else second.

For example, take the Broncos and Texans; both teams have rosters ready to make a playoff push, but both are missing a capable quarterback. The Texans made a deep playoff push with Brock Osweiler as their starter last season. All they theoretically need is a QB who can make enough plays and limit turnovers.

Kaepernick could serve that role or at least fill that role more than the crop of backup quarterbacks moonlighting as starters. Per Pro Football Reference, last season Kaepernick threw 16 touchdowns to only four interceptions which is a stark improvement over Osweiler.

In fact, Kaepernick’s performance in 2016 was similar to his first two seasons in the NFL.


Jan 1, 2017; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) dives after the fumble against Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) during the first quarter at Levis Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Man Himself

Another part of this whole saga is that Kaepernick is shooting himself in the foot. In an article from Pro Football Talk, Kaepernick reportedly does not want to be a backup quarterback and also wants a contract with an annual salary north of $9 million.

Demanding that he gets an opportunity to start limits his chances to sign with teams like the Carolina Panthers, who could’ve used him as a backup for established starter Cam Newton. There are a number of other instances with similar circumstances around the league, as well.

There are some teams who may become desperate before training camp starts. Teams like the Browns, Jets and Jaguars could bring him in and let him compete, but not before the draft is over.

There is still the possibility that teams like the Broncos and Texans bring him in as well. Both teams are poised to win now. If they miss out on Romo and a viable, immediate option in the draft, look for them to bring him into training camp.


December 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs the ball as Los Angeles Rams defensive end William Hayes (95) chases during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Final Verdict

The truth of the matter is that the quarterback market will determine his fate. Teams are not in a hurry to sign a starting QB when there is a chance to select a young, promising prospect or sign a top-10 quarterback such as Tony Romo. When the dust settles, teams who still have holes at the position will take a better look at Kaepernick.

Will his protest be a part of the decision? Yes, it will. Will it be enough for teams to avoid him? No, it won’t. At the end of the day, coaches need to win games. He will sign a deal that favors the respective team, allowing them the ability to cut him after one season if need be. If he wins, fans will forget pretty quickly. If he loses, the team will cut ties pretty quickly too.

Just don’t believe that he is “blacklisted” simply because of his protest. Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph recently said, via The Denver Post:

“It does not bother me,” Joseph said at the league’s annual meeting Tuesday. “You have to give the players a right to voice their personal concerns. That doesn’t bother me at all.”

Kaepernick may be unsigned, Joseph clarified, due to several factors unrelated to his political stance:

“It could be numerous issues as far as he’s a veteran quarterback, his number could be really high, he doesn’t fit a certain offensive philosophy,” Joseph said. “It could be numerous things.”

NFL teams are savvy.

They will find ways to sell anything to the public. Right now, some teams are figuring out ways to draft and sell Joe Mixon to their fan base. And Mixon physically knocked a woman unconscious. Teams will do just about anything to fill a roster with talent.

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