By Jason Keidel
Like many nonlinear equations, there’s no one answer to a certain NFL problem.
In the anarchy of free-agent binging, why isn’t Colin Kaepernick on an NFL roster?
Geno Smith has a home. His stats are an eyesore. His locker room mojo is so bad one of his teammates literally knocked him out and shattered his jaw. Yet Smith didn’t have to leave the state, city or building to get a job with the Giants. The Jets jettisoned Smith, only to replace him with Josh McCown, 10 years Smith’s senior, twice traded and now with his tenth NFL employer.
If you’re curious about how the rest of the QB free agent market unfolded during the NFL iteration of March Madness, here’s a review.
Mike Glennon is going to make $15 million this year with the Bears, and he didn’t even start last year. Likewise, Brock Osweiler is making similar money to play for the Browns, the only team willing to take him after his woeful 2016 campaign. The Texans are thanking their football deities for the help, as Houston couldn’t wait to unload Osweiler after signing him to an absurd $72 million deal. Brian Hoyer just got two years for $12 million from Kaepernick’s old club, the 49ers. Matt Barkley also got two years ($4 million) to migrate to San Francisco. Nick Foles just got two years for $11 million from his old club, the Eagles. Landry Jones just got two years for $4 million to remain Big Ben’s backup in Pittsburgh.
Rounding out the group of stalwart pro passers are Josh Johnson ($1.15 million) with the Giants, E.J. Manuel ($800,000) with the Raiders and Kellen Moore ($775,000) with the Cowboys.
What do these quarterbacks have in common, other than the fact that most are scrambling to remain employed? While a lucky few are vastly overpaid, all of them have won zero playoff games. Kaepernick not only has wins but a winning record (4-2) in the postseason.
Some of us were never on the Kaepernick bandwagon, even when he was shredding NFL defenses on his way to a Super Bowl appearance. Some of us can’t be convinced that running quarterbacks make for longevity, even one as gifted as Kaepernick. You win divisions, and reach Super Bowls and Canton, from the pocket.
Even still, Kaepernick threw 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2016. The 4-to-1 ratio is not quite Aaron Rodgers territory, but it’s certainly upper-echelon. And it’s quite incongruous for any QB on a football team that went 2-14 (San Francisco’s record last year).
The league-wide allergy to Colin Kaepernick is not to his production, but rather his politics. The only time a quarterback customarily takes a knee is to end the half or the game. But when Kaepernick took a knee before the game, during our national anthem, he lit a cultural fire that engulfed the NFL for months. There was no tepid or timid reaction to the action or to the man. Either you were in Camp Kap, proud of an athlete on a crusade in the face of a disturbing football code of silence, where no player dare take a stand on anything. Or you were on Team Flag, swathed in stars and stripes, appalled by Kaepernick’s lack of awareness, gratitude and patriotism.
The issue is way too deep, intricate and complex to address here. But suffice it to say that the NFL, easily the most conservative team sport in America, has no desire to ostracize itself or its fans. And no sport waves the flag more ardently than the NFL or shines a kinder light on the military. It’s almost a rite of autumn to see a well-coiffed soldier stroll to midfield of some sun-splashed NFL stadium, to bearhug his stunned, elated family. To that end, Kaepernick has said his days of squatting for the “Star-Spangled Banner” are long gone.
Coaches, players, the media and the masses have long seen the NFL as a meritocracy. If you can help a club win, they don’t care about your color, religion or political leanings, as long as you don’t broadcast them. But as with all professions, the latitude and gratitude you get is directly commensurate to your talent. A marginal player gets cut after his first missed tackle. The All-Pro gets more mulligans than the rest of us.
And it’s that dynamic that will get Kaepernick on an NFL roster before the summer. Maybe he’s not the glittering, muscular star he was a few years ago. Nor is he assured a starting gig. But if he doesn’t start, he would be the best backup in the NFL, provided Tony Romo isn’t on the Cowboys this year. (Jimmy Garoppolo, who won two games in September, doesn’t have the body of work we need to crown him.)
In fairness, we’re only a couple weeks into the process, making it a bit early to throw a flag for collusion. Can we say with absolute certainty that not a single team has even texted his agent? We also don’t know what Kaepernick wants in terms of money and location. No doubt that Kaepernick pulled the pin on a PR hand grenade that teams surely won’t touch. But in the end, talent wins.
And while Colin Kaepernick may not have as much as many of you thought, he has enough wear NFL colors. Especially now that he will stand for the Stars and Stripes.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.
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