In recent days and weeks, I have seen just about every reason imaginable to explain why Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have a job in the NFL: from racism to Donald Trump to he just simply doesn’t possess the necessary skill and everything in between. Things are never that simple.
To have a real discussion, a few things need to be acknowledged. First, Colin Kaepernick absolutely has the talent and skill to be a quarterback on an NFL roster. Say what you will about some of his recent performances or the talent around him, but despite having the 23rd ranked QBR in the NFL last season you don’t quarterback a team to an appearance in the Super Bowl only 4 seasons ago by complete accident or fluke. Second, there are without a doubt owners in the NFL who would under no circumstances hire him. That is a fact that cannot be denied. However, I do not mean for that sentiment to represent all owners, or to suggest there is some league-wide conspiracy to keep him out. There are most certainly teams who would be willing to take his talents.
If we’re going to acknowledge the positives, we must do so for the negatives as well. Kaepernick is undeniably a distraction. He was a distraction last season. He has been a distraction during the entire offseason. He will be a distraction going forward. Any team that signs him is going potentially going to have their coach, players, and management answering questions about him throughout camp. The questions won’t cease after camp concludes, but will continue into the season. “Did he get a fair chance to win the starting quarterback job?” “Why isn’t he starting?” Heaven forbid the starting quarterback has a bad game. That will lead to a 27-minute segment on ESPN’s “The 6” about if the starting QB job is in jeopardy, followed by a multitude of questions everyone in the organization will be forced to answer.
In the NFL, teams tend to look past your distractions if you produce. The reality at this point is one that if Colin Kaepernick is signed, he is likely going to be brought in as a backup. Few teams would be willing to deal with the level of distraction he brings for someone who is going to be a backup. For a similar example, look no further than Tim Tebow. Tebow produced at high levels, and even won playoff games with the Denver Broncos, but he also brought with him a large amount of distraction and media attention. Eventually, his production was not greater than the distraction and attention that followed him, and now he’s playing professional baseball.
Conversely, in 2015 Greg Hardy was signed by the Dallas Cowboys. He was signed in free agency despite the fact he had been charged with assaulting and threatening a female. The charges were eventually dropped, but the reputation surrounding Hardy was tarnished. However, because Greg Hardy had undeniable talent, people were willing to look past the distraction and stained reputation. All of this is to say that if it was primarily a race issue, Tim Tebow would still have a job or had Kaepernick had the talent level of Greg Hardy, he may have had no trouble finding a roster spot.
Shocker: many NFL owners think signing someone who has supported Fidel Castro, worn socks depicting police officers as pigs, and took a knee during the national anthem will be a larger distraction than what the player yields in production and that will impact their bottom line. But it would be wrong to completely blame Kaepernick for his current unemployment.
Kaepernick can also thank the media for his current absence from an NFL roster. I truly believe that teams could look past the kneeling, pig socks, and support for Castro enabling him to be on a roster had it not been for the media hysteria. With ESPN leading the charge, there has been wall-to-wall coverage on his every move and this story since the end of last season. By the media drumming up his journey and making such a big deal of Kaepernick’s status, it has just heightened the level of distraction he carries.
Add in to the story the rally at NFL HQ for Kaepernick that Spike “can’t even spell Kaepernick correctly” Lee is promoting, and the distraction just continues to build off itself and snowball past what an owner may be willing to put up with. Unquestionably, the intensity of coverage and attention from the media has directly contributed to Kaepernick not being on a roster.
While there are certainly owners who have blackballed Kaepernick, that opinion is not reflective of the entire league. Teams across the league are doing a cost-benefit analysis on bringing him in, and to date the distraction has outweighed talent. He undeniably has NFL-level talent. Nevertheless, the market is the true dictator of value, and there isn’t much of a market for Colin Kaepernick currently. That makes the reports that he turned down a $900,000 contract somewhat confusing. It now becomes hard for anyone to seriously make the argument that his desire for publicity and being the face of a cause is not of a higher priority to Colin Kaepernick than his desire to be on an NFL roster come September.