Lately, there has been a good deal of debate over whether or not former San Francisco 49s quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL because of his outspoken views about our society and his refusal to stand for the national anthem. At a time when corporate America prefers the bland over the bold, it can be argued Colin and his outside the box views and blunt criticism has been his undoing. It hasn’t.
When Colin Kaepernick first stormed the NFL and led San Francisco to a Super Bowl, it seemed we were watching a once in a generation talent taking over a sport. Like many, I thought he seemed on the cusp of finally revolutionizing the quarterback position and changing the way the NFL is played. Like many, I was wrong.
The NFL is controlled by a bunch of very rich old white men so it is easy to think they are not likely to want to reward a player of color with a ton of money who blasts their world and what they may or may not have contributed to the plight of people of color in this nation.
If there is one problem I see with the NFL product is its lack of uniqueness in the product it produces. All teams rely on basically the same offense and one or two defenses because it turns players into interchangeable parts. By utilizing the same basic offensive and defensive approaches, it makes it easier to pick up a new player from another team and inject him into the lineup, especially now that coaching staffs are allotted less time to work with players in the off season.
The problem with Colin Kaepernick is his unique skill set. Unless your head coach runs a much different offense that utilizes his skill at running the ball, Kaepernick requires a lot of coaching, something there is not as much time for in the NFL.
Playing for a coach last year, Chip Kelly, who used a system perfect for Kaepernick resulted in what looked like a decent season with him tossing four touchdowns to every interception, an excellent ratio. On paper, he looks like he is still a great quarterback.
However, NFL coaches do not look at paper; they look at film because film never lies. On film, Kaepernick is a nervous quarterback, one who cannot throw well when confined to the standard NFL pocket. He lacks the touch to throw a variety of balls and despite a very strong arm, Colin shows consistently the inability to hit receivers who are open on deep throws. He has also long been known for bailing on a play when his first option is not open so most defenses now employ a spy whose job it is to track him minimizing his running ability.
None of these flaws have anything to do with Colin’s skin color or his political views. After enough film and coaching, coaches no longer see him as the type of quarterback they can win with.
It should also be noted, he is not the only quality quarterback who is left without a team to lead. Tony Romo is still stuck in Dallas, behind a black quarterback I might point out, primarily because there are not enough coaches who see the guy as being able to withstand the rigors of an entire season. He is, by all accounts, an All American kind of guy, the kind old wealthy white owners might like. Still, they are not going to gamble on him right now.
Then there is Jay Cutler, an old fashioned gunslinger and from what I hear a first rate prick of a teammate. NFL coaches do not see him as a player they can win with despite being a classic pocket quarterback who can make all the throws required from an NFL quarterback.
So at best, Kaepernick is not an answer to a team looking for a winner as much as he is a very well known guy who many players in the league look up to for the stances he took last year. He is a great teammate in their eyes, but in the end, his talent is not up to what NFL coaches want. His physical tools may be incredible, but he still lacks other factors, pocket presence, touch, footwork, and meat on his bones.
Will he be unemployed next season? Well, that all depends. If he is looking to become a starting quarterback, he may need some bad luck to fall upon someone else. If a team like the Minnesota Vikings feel their injured starter, Teddy Bridgewater, is unable to play next year, they may look at him instead of Sam Bradford, but they won’t pay the going rate. If Cam Newton has problems returning from shoulder surgery, perhaps he might fit in with Carolina, but as soon as Cam is healthy, it will be back to the bench for Kaepernick. And then there is always the Cleveland Browns who might think he would be better as their next signal caller while they groom a rookie to eventually take over. At any rate, his long-term prospects do not look all that promising.
At the end of the day, the NFL does not go seeking any player at any position of any color whose film is flawed, seems as socially driven as professionally driven, and who adheres to a vegan diet which prevents him from maintaining the physical body they desire.
To think the league is going to up and change simply because of his uniqueness is a laughable notion. To expect it to change is even more laughable. No, Colin Kaepernick is the one who will have to decide whether or not to change and grow into what the league wants or be willing to move on to the next phase of his life, whatever that may be.
It may well be in another 30 years, Colin Kaepernick may be seen as one of this nation’s top leaders in helping lead the fight against racism and poverty. He may be an elected leader with a lot of clout, community activist known nationwide, or just another pissed off American who is still fighting the system. His time in the NFL may just be an after thought. However, for now, he is at a crossroads in life and lacks the chips to win at the table.
Does Colin Kaepernick love football enough and believe in himself to the point he is willing to go back to being a backup quarterback who is willing to improve on his flaws with the hope of someday leading a team again, or has he grown tired and stubborn enough to not want to be bothered and just wants to move on in life? The question is not why hasn’t a team signed him yet as much as what will Colin’s next move be and in that respect, Colin Kaepernick has far more control over his future than any wealthy white owner of an NFL franchise.
Photos by Claudia Gestro – Top photo: Colin Kaepernick