I’m aware that this article’s headline is far from breaking news of the Earth-shattering variety, but I was reading through this particular gem today and was unable to stay my hand in typing up this rebuttal.
I spent most of last year supporting Kaep’s peaceful protest, all while noting that he was absolutely DESTROYING his future earning ability. Now, I didn’t predict the record-breaking crash in the NFL’s popularity that’s occurred this year, but I did repeatedly declare that Kaepernick was absolutely throwing his career away with his protest. But I applaud a man taking a principled stand for something he’s passionate about (I think he probably could have done an order of magnitude more good by keeping his head down and donating his mega-millions in now-lost earning potential to support the causes he’s passionate about, but I digress…). Kaepernick knew, either through his own deductive reasoning or due to counsel provided by his inner circle of advisors, that his career would never be the same after his protest, and he protested anyway. That’s brave (and possibly stupid, depending on how much or little stock he put in his advisors’ counsel) and, insofar as his protest is fueled by bravery, it should be applauded by pretty much everyone–even those who stand diametrically opposed to him on the issues he’s passionate about.
Ok, so with all of that out of the way.
First off, the author of the linked piece up at Bleacher Report consistently makes the case that there is collusion among NFL owners/management to not employ Colin Kaepernick. The operative excerpt from the Bleacher Report article is below:
The NFL is blackballing Colin Kaepernick. It is systematically preventing a highly qualified individual from pursuing his career for political reasons. It is denying fans the best possible entertainment experience, and teams that need quality quarterbacks but sign randos are not making the best possible effort to win a Super Bowl.
Pretty bold declaration, no? I’m not even going to get into the definition of terms like ‘blackballing.’ Nor am I going to argue with the ‘best possible effort to win a Super Bowl’ line of ‘reasoning’ because, frankly, it’s irrelevant. Let’s first focus on Colin Kaepernick’s on-field performance, since that is indeed at the heart of the issue surrounding his continued unemployment.
A quick perusal of Colin Kaepernick’s career stats over at ESPN shows a mixed bag of results. On the one hand, his rushing yardage is absolutely top shelf for an NFL Quarterback. On the other hand, his passing productivity consistently declined from 2012-2015 (Passer ratings by year starting in 2012: 98.3, 91.6, 86.4, and 78.5–to be fair, he rebounded to ~league average in 2016, after being benched and having his replacement flame out, with a 90.7 last year). So purely as a passer, looking at the last few years, he’s below average. ‘Average’ for an NFL Quarterback is an exceptionally high bar to clear, however, so ‘below average’ shouldn’t be viewed as a terribly strong indictment. It should simply be taken as something less than a strength in his player portfolio of what can reasonably be expected from him.
So right off the bat, it seems like we’re talking about a Quarterback who doesn’t pass the ball exceptionally well, but who runs the ball exceptionally well. But that’s just surface-level analysis. The truth is a bit more complicated.
Without getting into the vagaries of the Read Option vs. Pocket Passing vs. Designed QB Rushes, the bottom line is that Colin Kaepernick is far from a prototypical NFL Quarterback. He generates tremendous value with his legs, and as someone who has watched quite a bit of Kaep the last few years (I follow the Seahawks pretty regularly) I can confidently assert that most of his rushing yardage comes on designed running plays–meaning plays where everyone on the offense knows, before the ball is snapped, that Kaepernick is going to run to a certain gap in the defense. This is different from, say, Russell Wilson whose legs are used more to extend his opportunities to pass the ball, and when a passing opportunity doesn’t present itself he will go ahead and pick up some yardage with his feet. Jameis Winston, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson all fit into basically the same player type category of mobile quarterbacks, but even among these players there are significant differences.
Ok, so I’ve made the case for why Colin Kaepernick is far from a ‘normal’ QB. Here’s why that’s important.
Assuming the team didn’t already feature a mobile Quarterback, mobile Quarterbacks require top-down overhauling of whatever offense incorporates them. There are, again, endless X’s & O’s related reasons why this is the case, but for the purposes of this article it’s probably best just to accept the premise as essentially accurate. So any team that signed Colin Kaepernick, assuming they didn’t already feature a mobile QB, would have to overhaul their entire offense mid-season in order to accommodate his style of play. If Kaepernick was capable of adapting to a regular NFL-style playbook, we’d have seen evidence of that because, frankly, it’s easier to win the traditional way on offense than it is to run Read Options and designed QB keepers. So there are legitimate, on-field, X’s & O’s reasons for most NFL teams to avoid Kaepernick as a mid-season addition.
This leaves us with the issue of teams like the Texans, who just this week lost their certain-to-be Rookie Of The Year, ultra mobile QB, Deshaun Watson. Watson and Kaepernick are far from identical, but the similarities are definitely there so this particular situation warrants a little examination. Purely from an X’s & O’s perspective, there’s something of a fit here. Kaepernick isn’t as good as Watson (or at least he’s not as good as Watson had been up until his devastating injury) but he’s cut from a similar cloth, and Houston’s playbook wouldn’t require a massive overhaul in order to integrate Kaep into the system. On the surface, it looks like a reasonable fit.
But now we get to the real crux of the matter: marketability. Contrary to the Bleacher Report author’s insistence that winning the Super Bowl should be the only consideration worthy of discussion (while correctly noting that improving QB production furthers that aim) NFL teams are massive business ventures of a scope and scale that most of us could never fully comprehend from top to bottom. The primary consideration of ANY business is to turn a profit.
Winning a Super Bowl definitely helps an NFL team to turn a profit because it enhances the brand’s value both locally and nationally, so becoming champions is understandably high on every NFL team’s priority tree. But I guarantee you that the vast majority of NFL owners, if presented with the hypothetical choice of ‘win the Super Bowl and lose $100,000,000, or miss the playoffs and make $100,000,000,’ would take the latter option with a smile. I’m not suggesting Colin Kaepernick is worth a $200,000,000 swing in revenue; I’m simply outlining the role profit plays in an NFL ownership’s priorities.
Make no mistake: the anthem protests have cost the NFL hundreds of millions of dollars this year. That is money that the League, the owners, and the players are going to miss when it comes time to re-divide the earnings pie of their ultra-lucrative business during the next collective bargaining negotiation. As the (apparently?) only profit-driven parties of this international business venture, NFL owners are rightly terrified of incurring the wrath of their local fanbases by seeming to support these anthem protests.
“It’s the economy, stupid,” is a reasonable place to start if you’re still mystified about why Colin Kaepernick is unemployed: the NFL is a business, and the anthem protests have reversed the last several years’ growth that the NFL enjoyed–growth which had led to ever-rising salary caps and improved healthcare benefits for current and retired players.
Politics are not directly involved here–or, at the very least, they don’t need to be invoked in order to logically explain Kaepernick’s continued unemployment. The NFL’s various owners are saying ‘pass’ to Colin Kaepernick because he’s toxic–just like they said ‘pass’ to Ray Rice after his bizarre and terrible domestic violence incident. The NFL’s owners are, perhaps unexpectedly in this vehemently anti-big-business environment, forwarding their customers’ interests (or at least what they think to be their customers’ interests) by leaving Kaepernick on the unemployment line.
So, all of that said, here’s the final nail in the coffin: Colin Kaepernick simply isn’t that good. He’s a below average passer, an above average runner, and he’s loaded with toxic off-field baggage. If he was an above average QB, the anthem ‘controversy’ would have given way to his superior skillset and teams would have lined up around the corner to add him to their rosters this past offseason. But the simple truth is that below average QB’s don’t tend to win Super Bowls, which makes all of this gnashing of teeth utterly irrelevant.
So signing a below average QB, just because he’s an upgrade over what you’ve got, is actually the opposite of a proven, winning strategy. It would be no better than gambling, with the stakes being an NFL team’s increasingly tenuous relationship with its fan base.
Let me close on a perhaps unexpected note: I admire Colin Kaepernick more than most people I speak with about his situation. I admire him for throwing away literally hundreds of millions of dollars to protest something he feels passionately about. I think he’s badly mistaken in his reasoning and evaluation of whatever evidence led him to believe the issue he is protesting is worthy of protest, but I absolutely admire passion like he has demonstrated himself to possess over the last year.
The people I take issue with are the League Commissioner and the NFL Player’s Association leadership. Those two leadership efforts, be they individual or run-by-committee, have tragically failed the people whose interests they were hired to forward and protect. They should all lose their jobs for letting this situation suppurate and fester to the point that it has sent hundreds of millions of their constituents’ dollars up in flames.
Kaepernick I can admire and respect, even if I disagree with him on pretty much every point of his protest. But the NFL and NFLPA leaders caved to political correctness–and it’s going to cost everyone around them.
I only hope this situation successfully serves as a cautionary tale for the next generation.