Colin Kaepernick became the focal point last season when he chose to peacefully display his right to protest by kneeling during the Nation Anthem due to racial injustices occurring to minority communities throughout the nation.
As one could expect, he received quite a bit of backlash, but also a good amount of support throughout the league and the nation as a whole.
When Kaepernick began his protest he was the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Just four years removed from Super Bowl XLVII, and now Kaep couldn’t beat out Blaine Gabbert for the starting role.
Why Kaepernick Will Never Start In The NFL Again
There is no denying that Kaepernick’s decision to kneel ruffled some feathers around the league and in many front offices. Players, coaches, and executives are always preaching team first, and the importance of minimizing distractions away from football. Whether you agree with the quarterback’s stance or not, you can’t argue that it brought the focus away from football and brought a distraction to the locker room (which, to some degree, was the entire purpose of his protest).
Now, with 2016 in the past, Kaepernick has opted out of his contract with the 49ers, making him a free agent going forward, and maybe for good.
Many believe that Kaep has been blacklisted by owners and GM’s due to his protest, I for one, do not think that is the whole story.
Kaepernick took the NFL by storm in 2012 when he took over the starting role in San Francisco for an injured Alex Smith. A relatively unknown 2nd round pick out of the University of Nevada, Kaep entered the game as arguably one of the most athletic quarterbacks the league has ever seen.
His combination of arm strength, quickness, elusiveness, and speed gave defenses fits and had NFL fans reminiscing the years past when Mike Vick changed the quarterback position forever.
In his first half season as a starter, he led a very talented 49ers team to the Super Bowl and was one play away from being crowned a champion.
The next season, he led the Niners to a 12-4 record and back to the NFC Championship game, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champs, Seattle Seahawks.
Then his career, as quarterback of the 49ers, began to shift. 2014 was met with a lot of turmoil for the Niners. Injuries hurt the defense, which had been the team’s focal point in its recent success. Reports that coach Harbaugh and the front office were “rubbing each other the wrong way” began to surface. Some players even came out and said that Harbaugh was hard to play for.
Former 49ers guard Alex Boone said of Harbaugh,
“He does a great job of giving you that spark, that initial boom. But after a while, you just want to kick his ass…He just keeps pushing you, and you’re like, ‘Dude, we got over the mountain. Stop. Let go.’ He kind of wore out his welcome. I think he just pushed guys too far. He wanted too much, demanded too much, expected too much. You know, ‘We gotta go out and do this. We gotta go out and do this. We gotta go out and do this.’ And you’d be like, ‘This guy might be clinically insane. He’s crazy.'”
While Kaepernick threw for the most yards in his career (3,369) he also threw his most interceptions (10), and the team finished a lackluster season at 8-8, missing the playoffs.
Harbaugh left following the season, and the team tumbled downhill, taking Kaepernick with it. He only played 8 games in 2015 before he was sidelined due to injury. During those 8 games, the 49ers went an abysmal 2-6, and Kaepernick was on pace to finish the season with 12 passing touchdowns, not what you love to see from your starting quarterback. In JaMarcus Russell‘s best season he threw for 13 touchdowns, not a guy you typically want to be compared to.
Then we get to 2016. Chip Kelly is the new head coach and all signs point to the rebirth of Kaepernick. Every indication would lead you to believe that Kaep fits perfectly in Kelly’s high-octane offensive system. Apparently not. Blaine Gabbert beat him out for the starting job. That’s right, Blaine Gabbert.
After five starts and a 1-4 record, Gabbert was benched and Kaepernick was given the opportunity to start.
During his time on the bench, Kaepernick was exercising his right to protest, and the hope was that now his play on the field could fortify his position and continue the conversation. Unfortunately, the former never really took hold.
The team finished 1-10 under Kaep, 2-14 overall, and Kaepernick finished with a completion percentage of 59 and 1.5 touchdowns per game.
He knew the risk he was taking when he decided to sit, but he also knew that if he played well that wouldn’t matter.
As already stated, organizations always preach “team first,” and “no distractions,” but they are always willing to put up with sideshows and antics if the player performs and helps the team win on the field. Terrell Owens may go down as one of the biggest locker room distractions of all time; he wore a lot of teams out, but because of his play on the field, he always found employment and enjoyed a 15-year career.
We have seen lots of players commit actual crimes, civil and malicious, and they are given an opportunity to play for some team because their skill set is too good to not be given another chance. I’m not saying this is right, but it’s the way it is. In a game where performance is everything, if not the only thing, integrity can sometimes take a back seat to talent and skill.
Which brings me to the title of this article, Kaepernick will never START in the NFL again because, well, he just isn’t that good of a quarterback.
I can 100% guarantee you that if Russell Wilson was the quarterback that knelt during the anthem, and the Seahawks decided to part ways with him, 20+ teams would be lining up to sign him. They wouldn’t care that he was bringing a little “baggage” with him. They would see that he has been to two Super Bowls, winning one of them. They would see that he has a career completion percentage of 64.7, has thrown over 4,000 yards twice, has never thrown less than 20 touchdowns, been to three Pro Bowls, and has NEVER had a losing season in his NFL career. Owner’s and GM’s see that and that is what they care about.
Kaepernick has never been to a Pro Bowl, has never thrown more than 3,400 yards, only thrown over 20 touchdowns once (21), has a career completion percentage of 59.8, and a career record of 28-30, winning only 3 times in his last 19 games.
Because of his style of play, an offense needs to be tailored around him. This isn’t a problem if he is the clear cut starter. His play of late does not merit a starting job in the NFL. And no teams are going to tailor an offense around a backup unless a team has a similar style offense already in place.
Is Kaepernick good enough to be a backup in the NFL? Absolutely. But as I said earlier, if the play on the field doesn’t outweigh the distraction, then a team will not touch you. Look at Tim Tebow. His play at quarterback clearly wasn’t nearly good enough to make the media circus that came with him worth it, and he was out of the league in three years.
Unless Kaepernick goes and tears it up in the Canadian Football League, his days as a starter in the NFL are over.