It’s May 13th and free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned. This piece attempts to find a plausible reason why. The Colin Kaepernick saga continues to unfold in front of all to see. The question remains: is Colin Kaepernick being blackballed?
Quick recap of the facts
Colin Kaepernick is a quarterback that spent his first six seasons playing for the San Francisco 49ers. During his time there, he led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2012 and to the NFC Championship game in 2013. The 49ers lost both games to Super Bowl champions. He subsequently got hurt and lost his place to Blaine Gabbert. In 2015, he reclaimed the starting spot on a terrible 49ers team. He completed that season, finishing with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Kaepernick subsequently exercised his option to become a free agent.
During the pre-season and through the entire 2016 season Kaepernick chose a unique way to protest. He refused to stand for the national anthem. He has since made it clear (according to ESPN) that he would stand for the anthem moving forward. These are the facts and they are undisputed.
Why has Kaepernick remained unsigned
The waters become murky when the topic of Colin Kaepernick arises. Kaepernick has successfully been a polarizing case for the football enthusiast, the casual sports fan, and the non sports-fan alike. There are issues of race, discrimination, favoritism, money, deception, and perception. “Has the NFL blackballed Colin Kaepernick”? It’s easy to say, yet incredibly difficult to prove.
An initial stated reason Kaepernick remains unsigned is his wage demands. ESPN’s respected NFL reporter Dan Graziano stated that Kaepernick is not blackballed. Instead his wage demand is too high. Here is an excerpt from a Graziano article dated March 27:
Further, we know from multiple sources that Kaepernick isn’t just looking for any job. Two people to whom I spoke last week say he’s looking for a place that offers him a chance to compete for a starting job and a salary befitting a high-end backup quarterback or a low-end starter. Think something like $9 million to $10 million.
So how many teams have reached out to Kaepernick? Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports wrote this on May 11:
Meanwhile, nearly 10 weeks into free agency, not a single franchise has been confirmed to have even called about Kaepernick.
This is direct contradiction to the Graziano piece citing Kaepernick’s allegedly high demands. How can a team have any idea what Kaepernick’s demands were when they never actually inquired?
But hold on there’s more
Jarrett Bell of USA Today sports recently interviewed renowned Sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards. Dr. Edwards is long known and respected as a civil rights activist. In this article, he has the title of “Kaepernick’s Advisor.” Or one of his advisors at least. When asked about Kaepernick’s free agency, Dr. Edwards said that three teams contacted him since free agency begun. He had a bit to say on the topic. “They’ve asked, ‘Can he play? Does he want to play?’ “ Edwards said. “The last question I can’t answer. The first question, absolutely. If Kaep makes up his mind, he wouldn’t only go in and make a team, he’d put pressure on somebody to start.” So Dr. Edwards really doesn’t know too much.
Keep in mind, Dr. Edwards is a longtime consultant for the San Francisco 49ers and has not spoken to Kaepernick since he (Kaepernick) became a free agent. Or so he said.
The Critics question Kaepernick’s ability
Of course, the NFL blackballing a player is a scandalous accusation with consequences. In a move to head off any such ideas, some chose to question Kaepernick’s ability to play. Dieter Kurtenbach of Fox Sports wrote the following on March 20;
‘There’s no grand conspiracy against Kaepernick. He’s just a bad quarterback, and bad quarterbacks don’t get breaks.
Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that the issue of Kaepernick’s off-field “baggage” has come up in any serious way with teams.’
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert also wrote a similar argument, also on March 20.
‘Teams are swayed first by a player’s potential (or lack thereof) to help them win. Protest or not, Kaepernick would be under contract now if he had played demonstrably better in recent years.’
This argument is quickly and methodically debunked by analysts that study the NFL and actually watched tape on Kaepernick. After all, Kaepernick threw 16 touchdowns against 4 interceptions for a putrid 49ers team.
Cian Fahey tweeted this in February
Kaepernick has his flaws, but his peak plays are so far ahead of the guys he gets mentioned with. pic.twitter.com/X9IX6A2kYe
— Cian (@Cianaf) February 16, 2017
Former NFL player and current analyst Stephen White of SB Nation
Finally Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report
To claim Kaepernick remains unemployed merely for “football reasons” is, frankly, fingers-in-ears, head-in-sand embarrassing. (11-12)
— Mike Tanier (@MikeTanier) March 22, 2017
So it’s safe to say, Kaepernick can in fact play at a decent to high level. For those who remain unconvinced, former 49ers coach Chip Kelly stood tall in defense of his former charge. “Do I think he is one of the top 64 quarterbacks in the world? There is no question. Does he have the ability to play quarterback on a winning team in the NFL? There is no question.The last couple of years, he was banged up. I think he is going to be better next year than he was this past year because physically he will be better.”
The Tweeter in Chief weighed in, Verbally
Of course this is simply too big a topic for opportunists to pass up. Enter the President of the United States Donald Trump. President Trump could not resist the urge to give his take. In what can be described as a benign (somewhat) comment President Trump gave his take. “Your San Francisco quarterback, I’m sure nobody ever heard of him. It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” he said. “Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”
What President Trump did? He gave credibility to a report from Bleacher Report which said Kaepernick was in “NFL Limbo.” The report further quoted an unnamed AFC General Manager who believed Kaepernick could in fact play at a high level, but were unwilling to deal with ramifications. “Secondly, some teams fear the backlash from fans after getting him. They think there might be protests or [President Donald] Trump will tweet about the team. I’d say that number is around 10 percent. Then there’s another 10 percent that has a mix of those feelings”.
The Jay Cutler argument
Many will choose Jay Cutler as the comparison for Colin Kaepernick’s employment situation. After leaving the Chicago Bears, Cutler subsequently retired and accepted a job as a commentator with Fox. Cutler was not widely courted by teams either. However, the flaw in the Cutler argument is this; Jay Cutler, though talented, has been inconsistent to mediocre for the entirety of his career. Also Cutler had season ending shoulder surgery in December. This is opposite to Kaepernick who is healthy and ready to go. There’s also the matter of age difference. Cutler is 33 years old, whereas Kaepernick is 29. Cutler’s situation is similar, however it is unrelated.
Kaepernick reached out to Shannon Sharpe
Hall of Fame Tight End Shannon Sharpe said on the show Undisputed on FS1, that he reached out to Kaepernick regarding the wage demands. Sharpe said the following;
“And he said, ‘Shannon, I really, really appreciated what you’re doing.’ I was like, ‘I’m just giving my point of view.’
“He says, ‘People keep putting out that I’m asking for 10, nine million dollars.’ He says, ‘Shannon, they don’t know what I’m asking for. I have not talked to, my representative has not talked to, [teams].'”
This statement by Sharpe is the closest to any statement from Kaepernick about his football future. It also confirms what Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports said. Dave Zirin of the Nation and the Edge of Sports Podcast also spoke of communication with Kaepernick while he was a guest on the Dan Patrick radio show.
Finally, in a time where quarterbacks like Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez, and Josh McCown all received contracts, Kaepernick waits. Now, Blaine Gabbert signed a one year deal with the Arizona Cardinals and still no team reached out to either Kaepernick or his agents. Is this not a concerted effort to avoid Colin Kaepernick by the NFL? If not, then please explain these circumstances. Please explain why. The Colin Kaepernick saga continues.