In my experience, I’ve found most of the time when people try to discuss anything about Colin Kaepernick, they do so from an emotional standpoint rather than a factual and/or rational one. That’s understandable, but it also often makes people believe that what they want to be real matters more than what’s contextually factual.
Let’s just get something out of the way: yes, Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem last year is definitely part of the reason why he’s not currently employed by an NFL team. Anyone trying to deny this is either lying or woefully naive.
That being said, there’s a whole lot more to this story which is getting glossed over by many.
For starters, the reason Kaepernick’s currently unemployed isn’t because he was cut by the San Francisco 49ers, it’s because he chose to opt-out of a $14.5 million contract.
As reported by ESPN:
Kaepernick’s contract was originally supposed to keep him with the Niners through 2020, but the team worked with the 29-year-old to revamp it before he reclaimed the starting job in October.
As part of the deal’s reconfiguration, Kaepernick traded $14.5 million in injury guarantees during the 2017 season for the opportunity to opt out of the deal early. His decision saves the Niners his $14.5 million base salary in 2017 though he will still count nearly $2.5 million in dead money for the remainder of his signing bonus proration.
It’s true the team could have eventually released him, but Kaepernick chose to restructure his deal to give him the opportunity to opt-out of his current contract — which he did.
Still, that doesn’t mean another team can’t/shouldn’t sign him. I just wanted to point out the fact that he’s the one who chose to opt-out of his contract, making him a free agent/unemployed.
While I understand it’s easy for some to try to make this about race, it’s really about his production as a player and the “distraction” his signing would bring to a team.
Let’s face it, how well a player performs on the field determines whether an NFL team will tolerate other distractions or off-the-field issues. If Kaepernick were a quarterback with the skills of Top 10 player at that position, someone whom a team felt could lead their franchise for the next few years, trust me, he would be on an NFL roster right now.
Unfortunately, Kaepernick’s not that.
He’s a soon-to-be 30-year-old quarterback whose career completion percentage is 59 percent, has never thrown more than 21 touchdowns in a season, and hasn’t come close to throwing for over 4,000 yards in a league where many rookies are easily surpassing that mark. He’s also a quarterback who’s known to make “plays with his legs” (aka running the ball), who’s approaching an age where a player’s athletic ability tends to decline and injuries become more common.
In other words, for all intents and purposes, Kaepernick has “peaked” and what he’s been since he was drafted in 2011 is who he’s going to be. He’s an aging, mobile quarterback who’s not overly accurate, who’s never thrown more than 21 touchdowns or passed for more than 3,369 yards during his six-year NFL career.
Still, without a doubt, he’s more than talented enough to at least get a shot to make an NFL roster.
The question is, what does Kaepernick want to be? Is he willing to accept that he’s unlikely to be a starting quarterback going forward? Also, how much money is he asking for? There’s a massive difference between what a team would pay a quarterback who thinks he can be a starter and someone who is fine being a career backup. If Kaepernick is asking too much to be a backup, in a day and age where teams covet salary cap space, most aren’t going to pay more than they absolutely have to for a quarterback who, in all likelihood, isn’t going to play much — if at all.
However, that’s brings us back to productivity being tied to off-the-field issues/distractions.
The last thing NFL teams want are distractions that could impact their team. That’s why, in most instances, unless a player’s production is worth dealing with when compared to their off-the-field issues/distractions, most NFL teams aren’t going to deal with them. A third or fourth string wide receiver is obviously not going to be able to get away with the same off-the-field issues/distractions as the first string, All-Pro, future Hall of Fame player ahead of them on the depth chart.
Whether anyone likes that reality or not, that’s just the way it goes. For all the NFL’s PR about caring about off-the-field issues, when we get right down to it, it’s a business.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing Kaepernick’s controversy with, say, a player who’s been accused of sexual assault or domestic violence. NFL teams have, by and large, proven that their bottom line matters more than common sense or discerning between righteous distractions and indefensible ones. If it’s a distraction at all, the only thing most teams have seemed to care about throughout history is whether or not the player is producing on the field.
The fact that Kaepernick’s production isn’t good enough to warrant a team dealing with all the attention his signing would bring to their organization is the reason why he’s not currently on an NFL roster.
An NFL team going into the start of the season doesn’t want a player who’s either not likely to make the final 53-man roster or, at best, will be a backup quarterback, to be the overwhelming and dominant story the front office, coaches, and most of the players will have to answer questions about nearly every single day.
Also, for those who think he should be on a roster, what’s the “end game” for them? Would it be enough for him to be signed, but then eventually cut if a team didn’t feel he fit a need? Would that not almost certainly trigger complaints by many of those same people that the only reason he was cut was because of his protest? Are the people who think he should be signed by a team wanting to simply put pressure on an NFL franchise to sign and keep him — simply because? What if the team that signed him had a young, struggling quarterback they were trying to develop, would some people not claim the reason why Kaepernick wasn’t playing was because of his protest from the year before?
These are all headlines, questions, and distractions that are going to come along with practically any team that would sign Kaepernick.
That’s the side-effect of all the attention given by those who think Kaepernick should be on an NFL roster — they’re actually kind of making it worse.
A few weeks/months ago the Kaepernick story was just something mentioned once in a while. Now it’s become a massive national headline, prompting the NAACP to want a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, with people staging pro-Kaepernick rallies in various places around the country.
It really is a catch-22.
I understand the fact that people are trying to make this into a bigger headline, hoping it will pressure a team to finally sign him. Though at the same time, they’re making him into a bigger story, which is also serving as a deterrent for many teams that might have actually thought about doing so.
Once again, it’s about production vs. the off-the-field issues/distractions.
For example, I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan. If Zeke Elliot was some random, third string running back who was only projected to take 30 snaps for the upcoming season, not only does he probably not even make the roster, he almost certainly isn’t getting the full weight of Jerry Jones behind him to appeal a 6-game suspension over allegations of domestic violence.
However, since he’s considered one of the best running backs in the league, that means he’s going to get away with much more than some third or fourth string player would.
Is that ethically or morally right? No, it’s not. But as I said earlier — the NFL is a business that doesn’t give much of a damn about what’s right unless it’s helping their bottom line.
I understand that when Kaepernick decided to kneel during the National Anthem, many didn’t see it as a sign of disrespect toward this country, but rather as his way to bring about attention to police violence against African Americans and the racism that still persists in this country. I’ll say the same thing now that I said last year when it all began: a message, no matter how important, is often only as effective as the means by which attention is brought to it and the person/people trying to facilitate it.
While many didn’t view Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem as a sign of disrespect toward this country, a lot of people did view it as such. And it wasn’t just “people on the right,” either. I’ve seen many Democrats and progressives who’ve said they disagreed with his method of protest. Then he didn’t make things any better when he wore socks depicting police officers as pigs; talked about his protest being about opposing oppression, then wore a shirt favorably depicting Fidel Castro, an oppressive dictator; said Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were equally racist; then admitted he didn’t even vote — one of the most powerful “voices” we’re given in this country — and a right African Americans literally died trying to obtain.
There were many ways Kaepernick could have gone about trying to bring attention to this issue; he chose one that, at least in the opinions of a lot people, wasn’t effective. It was divisive, controversial, and made the story more about him and whether or not he was being disrespectful toward this country, and the men and women who’ve died to defend his right to protest, than it was about racial injustice and African Americans who had been wrongfully murdered by police officers.
Nobody is saying he didn’t have the right to protest however he so chooses. With that said, in life, especially when you’re someone in his position, a public figure representing a team, the choices a person makes can have an impact on their career.
Am I saying that’s fair? Of course not. From a moral and ethical standpoint, no, a person who’s been accused of domestic violence or sexual assault shouldn’t have a job while someone who was trying to bring attention to racial injustice remains unemployed. Sadly, too often it’s not about what’s morally or ethically right — but what’s best for business.
To most NFL teams, like all players, Kaepernick is viewed as nothing more than an asset. The question they ask themselves is does that asset bring with them enough value to warrant any outside issues/distractions that are unrelated to their productivity as a player?
And, unfortunately, because Colin Kaepernick’s a player who seems to have already peaked, who isn’t good enough to be a long-term solution at starting quarterback for an NFL team, his off-the-field issues/distractions outweigh any perceived benefits he’ll bring to any team that signs him as a backup.
Keep in mind, Kaepernick’s “value” (as a player, anyway) could change at any time. If a team battling for a playoff spot suffers an injury to their starting quarterback, and they feel Kaepernick’s good enough to get them a few wins, or at least keep them competitive, then his value could change, instantly making him worth any distraction the increased media attention surrounding his signing might bring.
While I didn’t agree with him kneeling for the National Anthem, and I’ve had issues with some of the things he’s said and done, in particular his decision not to vote, I wish Colin Kaepernick well. I think he’s a good person who’s trying to make a difference in the world. I absolutely hope he gets another chance to make an NFL roster if that’s what he really wants to do.
I simply wrote this article because I’ve found the debate over his current lack of employment in the NFL to have been rather frustrating. From what I’ve seen, most folks have simply “picked a side,” they’ve argued from the basis of emotion depending on whether or not they agreed with his protest, all while ignoring the football aspect to all of this — which is really what his current unemployment comes down to.
As it stands now, Colin Kaepernick is obviously talented enough to be on an NFL roster. However, as he’d almost certainly be a backup quarterback at this point in his career, the harsh reality is, his talents don’t outweigh the distractions his signing would bring to an NFL team — at least not right at the start of the season.
Unless the NFL starts losing enough revenue to where they’d give more of a damn about changing the way they operate, don’t look for more ethical business decisions anytime soon.
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