Sports stance: Kaepernick controversy more about skill than politics

The NFL preseason kicked off this past week and many still question why quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned.

After opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers at the end of the 2016 season, divisive quarterback Colin Kaepernick has yet to be signed by any NFL team. Some say it’s due to his 2016 form of protest, when he kneeled during the national anthem to protest the oppression of people of color. Photo courtesy of Flickr

Some argue it’s because of his kneeling protest during the national anthem. Others argue that the NFL has a race issue and Kaepernick happens to be a victim of it. While that may partially be the case, it’s not entirely true. Kaepernick entered the NFL in 2011 as a second round pick out of the University of Nevada.

By his second season his combination of capable, albeit average, throwing abilities with a game-breaking running ability gave the San Francisco 49ers a needed spark on offense. He would go on to lead them to consecutive NFC Championship games, which included an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII. Kaepernick’s diet-Cam Newton skills eventually caught up to him as he made little progression as a passer and became easy for opposing defenses to game-plan for. Kaepernick has thrown for 20 or more touchdowns just once in his career and he’s never eclipsed 3,400 yards in a season as a quarterback, both of which should be considered prerequisites for a passer to reach if they want to be considered capable.

Take a look at Cam Newton’s stats. Some of them are applicable to Kaepernick’s situation. They both have consistent low completion percentages– both have had three seasons with a completion percentage below 60%– but Newton has developed far beyond Kaepernick as a passer.

Newton’s arm can stretch the field. He can go through his progressions faster and more reliably than Kaepernick. I bring up these numbers and Newton to dispel the belief that the main reason Kaepernick is unemployed is race related, though it does play a role.

Newton’s 2015 MVP season was spectacular, and his constant celebrations–dubbed “thug” by some fans–threw him into the middle of a race controversy as well. Only, he wasn’t blacklisted like Kaepernick because he can play. When given legitimate talent around him, Newton is a top-five quarterback in the league.

Kaepernick hasn’t played on great offenses, sure. The offenses he played in had running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde as the focal points of the offense. Kaepernick has value as a backup quarterback and as an athlete. That’s not in question. That said, Kaepernick has likely already reached his peak. At 29 years old, he isn’t going to dramatically improve as a passer anymore which severely hurts his chances with teams.

Hypothetically, let’s say he doesn’t have any of the extra baggage. He’d already be a viable candidate to be cut in the preseason. The teams in which he fits their schemes are limited as is. When front offices are faced with fringe players like this they look beyond their physical skills to their intangibles.

Legendary wide receiver Cris Carter is a prime example of a fringe player being cut due to baggage. During the 1990 season, Carter was cut from the Philadelphia Eagles partly due to his drug and alcohol abuse. Carter was talented and in his prime, but off-field issues for a somewhat fringe player made him expendable and an off-field headache. However, Carter could play and got a second chance with the Minnesota Vikings. He became one of the most productive receivers of the 1990s.

Being a fringe, poor man’s Cam Newton on the field causes teams to look beyond the field. It’s hard to blame them for not wanting to sign a backup who may or may not make the team and bring unwanted media attention and fan criticisms to a team.

The problem isn’t what Kaepernick stands for, it’s a cause with inherently noble intentions. The issue is the fans. The fans have an issue with Kaepernick so the front offices must as well. Are some of his opponents racist? There’s not a doubt in my mind. But the overarching reason Kaepernick is unsigned isn’t because of his race or his actions, but his lack of potential.

The New York Jets currently have 38-year-old Josh McCown as the team’s starting quarterback. That’s difficult to comprehend. McCown, a prototypical journeyman, is quarterbacking an easy-read offense while Kaepernick, a player more capable of running that offense, isn’t on the Jets. This has been a topic of debate, even appearing on the Facebook feeds of various sports websites such as CBS Sports.

In this case, it makes no sense for the Jets to even entertain the idea of Colin Kaepernick. The Jets are in dire need of a franchise quarterback, but at this stage of his career, he cannot be a franchise quarterback. With their eyes set on a passer in the 2018 NFL Draft, why would the Jets sign a mediocre-at-best passer when they could draft top prospects like Wyoming’s Josh Allen or USC’s Sam Darnold come April?

In the eyes of GMs and owners, it would be unnecessary to sign a backup to what is likely a minimum deal for just a season or two when they’ll be looking at a top quarterback prospect. If Kaepernick has reached his peak, which the numbers and on-field performances say so, then what does he really have left when he’s almost 30?

Kaepernick’s cause is commendable. He truly believes he can make a difference. He already has. The football chapter in his life story is closing, but his philanthropy chapter is just beginning. Kaepernick is a good man and a good leader, but he’s just not a good quarterback

Author: James Burky

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