The NFL Has Run Out of Excuses on Colin Kaepernick

With all but the Monday nighter left on the docket, Week 2 produced a lot of compelling stories for fans and media to gab about: Tom Brady not being quite ready for the glue factory, Kareem Hunt’s continued excellence, the Seahawks’ abysmal offensive line, etc.

It also, definitely and conclusively, exposed the last of the excuses for Colin Kaepernick not being in a uniform right now as the sham that it is.

Let’s take a look at all the justifications that have been proposed to explain why no team has yet signed Kaepernick. There were basically four of them, three of which were always jokes.

1. He’s not good enough

This one’s always been bull pucky, but you still see it trotted out from time to time. “Oh, Kaepernick just isn’t that good a quarterback”. Kaepernick was 17th in QB rating last year among players who attempted at least 300 passes. Last time I checked, there were more than 16 quarterbacks employed on NFL teams. There’s just no statistical or scouting argument to suggest he isn’t good enough to play at a high enough level to make a contribution, especially when you consider some of the rough QB play we’ve seen through two weeks so far.

If you don’t believe the stats or your own eyes, though, maybe you’ll believe this guy, who knows a thing or two about good quarterbacking.

2. He’s a distraction

The idea here is that having a player protest during the anthem, or being the public face of anthem protesting, would somehow cause a problem in the locker room because NFL players are fragile creatures who are affected by every little distraction, which is why the media aren’t allowed to shove microphones and recorders in their face immediately after a tough loss, and why the NFL doesn’t have its own network on cable to promote wall-to-wall coverage of the league and its players or anything.

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Oh, wait.

Incidentally, other players continue to do their own protests in their own ways, sometimes alone, sometimes with other teammates, and no one seriously suggests the locker room chemistry on those teams has been horribly disrupted. Nor have any current or former 49ers said that Kaepernick was anything but a solid teammate.

3. He rejected a contract because he doesn’t want to be a backup

This one started circulating in March. Supposedly, Kaep wanted in the neighborhood of $10 million a year and at least a shot at a starter’s role if he were going to sign anywhere. The salary demands, rumor has it, are what sabotaged a potential deal with the Seahawks.

First off, he’s flat out denied that any of that is true. Second, even if it was true in the offseason, the situation’s maybe changed a bit since then now that the regular season’s begun. Third, his demands are immaterial, since no one’s even gotten to the point of asking for them yet.

4. He’s not a scheme fit

Of all the arguments to explain Kaep’s unemployment beyond, well, you know… this one was always the hardest to dismiss. “It’s not that he’s not good enough, it’s just that he’s a run-first, read-option QB, and the teams who need QB help run different offenses.”

Let’s put aside, for a moment, all the examples of teams like the Seahawks who do run offenses he would fit in under that premise but which still signed lesser QBs in the offseason; let’s also put aside the implications of suggesting a black QB is “only” an athlete and not a “real” pocket-passing QB, like good old Johnny Unitas and his crew cut from the good old days of the 1950s; let’s even put aside the fact that Kaepernick had a 16:4 TD:INT last year and a career 72:30 mark, which aren’t the sort of numbers a scattershot, scrambling QB is supposed to produce.

No, let’s instead look at a couple of teams who seemed to be squarely in that “not a scheme fit” box just a few short weeks ago.

The Texans desperately needed help at QB, but chose to go into the season with Tom Savage as their starter. Savage was a prototypical pocket passer coming out of college, a kid with a big arm and lead feet. He had two career NFL starts coming into 2017. It certainly seems plausible that a team committed to Savage as their starting QB wouldn’t want his backup to be a scrambler who would need completely different plays called for him, right?

The problem is, his backup was a scrambler, namely Deshaun Watson, and Savage’s tenure at the helm of the Houston offense lasted all of one half before the plug got pulled and Watson took over. The rookie then did this Thursday in his first start.

OK, fine. Watson was a first-round pick. Clearly Houston wants to develop him as its future franchise QB, and bringing in Kaepernick might have complicated that plan, even if having Kaep start would probably win them more games in the short term. Wouldn’t want the kid learning the wrong sorts of lessons behind a guy who was QB for a team that got to a Super Bowl or anything.

See, but then there’s also the Colts.

Indy came into the season with their established franchise QB, Andrew Luck, on the shelf with shoulder issues. The team played it coy, but his return date never seemed certain, and once it became clear he would miss their opener the Colts had to turn the offense over to mediocre-at-best career backup Scott Tolzien.

Now, for some mysterious reason, Luck is thought of as a pocket passer first and foremost, so it seems reasonable that he would need a pocket passer backup to keep the offense’s flow intact. Never mind that Luck has over 1,400 career rushing yards in 70 games (Kaepernick has exactly 2,300 rushing yards in 69 games), or that his 40-yard dash time at the Combine was a match for Cam Newton’s. Nope, Luck’s a pocket passer, so Tolzien must be the best guy the Colts could get to fill in for him.

Of course Tolzien would need his own backup until Luck was healthy, so the Colts did the smart thing and signed a free agent like Kaepernick to fill the role. Kidding! They traded away a 2015 first-round pick in Phillip Dorsett to get a 2016 third-round pick in Jacoby Brissett, who is, naturally, a scrambling QB whose only TD last season came on the ground.

Just so we’re clear: the Colts traded away a guy they used a first-round pick on just three drafts ago to get an inferior, inexperienced version of Kaepernick, rather than signing the real thing. And no, a lack of cap space was not the reason for the trade. According to Sportrac, they’ve got about $20 million under the cap to play with.

Naturally, Tolzien lost the job in Week 1 just like Savage did, with his first pass attempt of the year turning into a pick six, and Brissett is now the starter. Indy is also 0-2, and only the general sluggishness of the rest of the AFC South might keep them from having their playoff hopes crushed long before Luck returns to action. But what are wins, or playoff chances, compared to defending the integrity of the league and the nation against a man who thinks the Star Spangled Banner represents something different than you do?

Kaepernick remains unsigned, and all the excuses are gone. Only the obvious answer remains.