Who ever thought the most-publicized quarterback on the free agent market would be one whose team went 2-14 last season and is 4-20 in his last 24 starts? Well, when you consider who the quarterback is, you won’t be surprised.
It’s Colin Kaepernick. And in a market that still contains Tony Romo (not a free agent but he’s not staying in Dallas), Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jay Cutler, Kaepernick has received by far the most attention.
If you want to know why he has received the scrutiny he has, the answer is obvious. Last season, Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem before each game as a protest of what he views as racial inequality in the United States. There have been billions and billions of think pieces about the merits of his protest and his political beliefs; for what it’s worth, Kaepernick has announced that he will stand for the anthem next season (if he’s on a roster, that is) because he feels that the protest is detracting from his original message. This article won’t be about examining Kaepernick’s activism or his beliefs because seemingly everyone has an opinion on it and if I shared mine, it would assuredly be something you heard already.
This article will be an examination of Kaepernick’s value to an NFL team strictly as a quarterback and nothing more.
First of all, his performance last season should be taken with a large grain of salt. In 2016, the 49ers were the least-talented team in the NFC and their only two wins came against the Los Angeles Rams, who, frankly, were not much better than San Francisco. In fact, the Niners were so bad last season that their most exciting moment of the year was this:
Kevin Harlan is a national treasure: pic.twitter.com/CQFjPxkTMX
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dkurtenbach) September 13, 2016
It’s clear to see why Kaepernick’s performance last season may have been hindered; after all, the team’s two leading wide receivers last season were Jeremy Kerley and Quinton Patton, and together, they barely scraped together 1,000 receiving yards. But here’s another question: was Colin Kaepernick really all that bad last year?
Consider this: in Kaepernick’s 11 starts, he threw for 2,241 total yards, which comes out to slightly over 200 yards per game. That number is not good; the 49ers were involved in many a blowout last season, and it’s telling that Kaepernick was not able to inflate his numbers in garbage time. Some of that is due to his supporting cast, but you should probably throw for more yards if the defense plays a soft zone against you for an entire quarter in just about every game.
Still, we should look a little deeper at what Kaepernick did last season. In those same 11 games, he threw for sixteen touchdowns and just four interceptions. Before you dismiss those numbers, think about it this way.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is generally regarded as the best game manager in the league. That reputation is warranted, as Smith has not thrown double-digit interceptions in a season since 2010. And for, as good as Smith was last season, his touchdown-to-interception ration last year was 15:8, or roughly half as good as Kaepernick’s. Also, Smith had one of the best tight ends in the game (Travis Kelce), a game-breaking wide receiver (Tyreek Hill), and one of the most consistent pass-catchers in the NFL (Jeremy Maclin). Kaepernick had Kerley and Patton.
Kaepernick did, however, post mediocre numbers in other areas, as he threw for under 200 yards in five of his eleven starts and posted a less-than-stellar 59% completion rate as well as a very average 6.77 yards per attempt. Those statistics are a warning sign for what Kaepernick brings to the table, and they show that the quarterback has significant work to do in several areas.
There’s also this: Kaepernick, for reasons only known to Colin Kaepernick, opted out of his contract with the 49ers and gave up $14.5 million in guaranteed money. In essence, he decided to make himself the Dave Chappelle of the NFL. No one knows what Kaepernick will get in his next contract, but I somehow don’t think he’ll get as much as he was making in San Francisco. I understand that Kaepernick wants to bet on himself, and that’s completely fine. But, from a business standpoint, it simply wasn’t smart for Kaepernick to opt out of his deal, and that part of his current situation falls squarely on him.
Another thing to think about here is that teams could sign Kaepernick without the requirement that he be their starting quarterback. There are plenty of teams that could use a backup quarterback, and as last season showed, having a good second-string QB can be vital to a team’s success (see: Prescott, Dak). Kaepernick could do that for a team, even if he isn’t good enough to be a starting quarterback.
I’m not saying Colin Kaepernick is an elite, or even good, NFL quarterback; watching him for just one series in a game clearly proves that he is not. But consider this: out of the three best quarterbacks still, for all intents and purposes, on the market (Romo, Cutler, Kaepernick), only one has started in a Super Bowl. Here’s a hint: it’s not Romo or Cutler. Even though Kaepernick isn’t an overly skilled quarterback, his playoff experience should be a feather in his hat for teams looking to add a signal-caller.
Colin Kaepernick should be able to find work sooner rather than later. While the sports media is currently panicking about his state of affairs, there are a handful of teams who could use a quarterback of his caliber. A team like the Browns could assuredly use Kaepernick’s experience, and, frankly, his talent, to fill their quarterback void in the short term. And many other teams could use some additional depth at the quarterback position, and Kaepernick could be just the man to help them out.
Despite this, though, Colin Kaepernick is still a free agent. His ability to play the position shows that he probably shouldn’t be.