Colin Kaepernick’s NFL journey has been a roller coaster of highs and lows. After wresting the starting job from Alex Smith in 2012 and leading San Francisco to the cusp of a Super Bowl victory, Kaepernick has seen his fortunes do a 180. After struggling to maintain his spot on the field the last two years, the once promising star opted out of his contract. He currently stands on the outside looking in. Normally this might not be a huge story. Instead, Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the National Anthem last year has catapulted his plight to the forefront of the dead period between free agency and the NFL Draft.
Identifying the reasoning behind Kaepernick’s inability to land a contract has polarized fan bases. It’s a volatile situation with a multitude of factors. Extreme opinions exist on both sides of the spectrum. Somewhere in the middle, however, statistics and business make for a less combative evaluation. This article will aim to stay there.
The numbers against Kaepernick are relatively simple. He completed 59.2% of his passes last season. That’s good for 26th in the league – also known as 1.7% less than Case Keenum (currently unsigned) and only 0.2% more than Brock Osweiller (traded to the Browns for nothing). He also finished 23rd in QBR with a 55.2. Kaepernick is reportedly seeking $9-10 million dollars a year. It doesn’t add up. Even before the controversy, Kaepernick lost his starting job to Blaine Gabbert in 2015. Blaine Gabbert. That’s not easy to do.
Those in the quarterback’s corner also have numbers at their disposal. He threw 16 touchdowns to four interceptions in 2016. It’s a solid ratio that showcases his ball security through the air. Regardless of the league’s adjustments, Kaepernick remains a dual threat (468 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 2016). He also manned his team to one Super Bowl appearance and two NFC Championship Games. Not many quarterbacks who do that in five years as a starter find themselves out of a job, especially when unknown commodities like Mike Glennon are receiving $45 million deals. There is more than enough evidence to cry foul.
Ultimately, everything comes down to business. Are there owners and GMs out there who view Kaepernick as a player who can provide them with starting caliber play or needed depth for an agreed upon price. He’s undeniably one of the top 64 (first and second string) quarterbacks in the league. That’s a categorical fact. His price must come down, and eventually it will. Which teams will be there with offers when it does? Which organizations won’t even consider him? Keep reading below and feel free to comment with other possibilities.
15 COULD SIGN: Cleveland Browns
The Browns’ futility at the quarterback position has become so prolific that a Cleveland advertising agent created a jersey with every starting quarterback on it since 1999. The jersey reached 24 by 2016. Taped names and broken dreams hung far below the actual material. Luckily, the creator retired the jersey after the Cavaliers captured an NBA title. He must have been running short on tape and man tears. Cleveland will add another starter this year in all likelihood, but none of the four quarterbacks on their roster (Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, Pat Devlin) possess more talent than Colin Kaepernick. They aren’t the answer. Kaepernick isn’t either, but he could provide an exciting stopgap until 2018’s quarterback-loaded draft. Head coach Hue Jackson wanted to draft Kap when he was with the Raiders, and the Browns showed interest in a possible trade for the quarterback last year. As recently as March 28th, Jackson has not ruled out signing Kaepernick in the future.
14 STAY AWAY: New York Jets
The New York Jets are another team in need, but the organization likely won’t look Kaepernick’s way. Donald Trump weighed in on the Kaepernick saga last week. He claimed NFL owners don’t want to pick Kap up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from the president. Trump also made his thoughts known during the protest last August, calling it a “terrible thing” and suggesting Kaepernick should find a new country. Enter Jets owner Woody Johnson. He is President Trump’s choice to be the next Ambassador to the United Kingdom. The connection shows the improbability of New York making a move on Kaepernick. Johnson may have risked backlash for 2012 Kaepernick, but not the player entering 2017. Instead, the Jets are content with Josh McCown while the team grooms Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. McCown is a soon-to be 38-year-old quarterback joining his eighth NFL franchise. He has no mobility. He is 2-20 since 2014. He has seven more career touchdown passes and 39 more interceptions than Colin Kaepernick. It appears the separating factors are the lesser price tag ($6 million guaranteed) and lack of controversy.
13 COULD SIGN: Houston Texans
The Houston Texans’ Brock Osweiller trade smartly took a bloated salary off their books. A more accurate description for his position last year would be dead weight rather than quarterback. However, the move also leaves them with an unsavory choice between Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden. Houston expects to sign another signal caller this offseason. They are the front-runners for Romo, but the Texans can hardly count on such a gift. The Cowboys reportedly planned on releasing Romo. Then, they didn’t. Dallas might be holding out hope for a trade. Jerry Jones reportedly could wait until camp to make a decision. Romo even has suitors in CBS and FOX. Anything can happen. The Texans need a contingency plan. Kaepernick provides them with that. Houston can wait for Kaepernick’s salary demands to fall while keeping an eye on the Romo situation. Their overall team is so solid that they simply need a quarterback that will keep defenses honest. Kaepernick fits the bill with both his arm and his feet.
12 STAY AWAY: Dallas Cowboys
Speaking of Jerry World, the Dallas Cowboys already have their quarterback of the future. Kaepernick wants a chance to start, and it won’t come with Dak Prescott in Dallas. Assuming Tony Romo doesn’t somehow remain with the team as the league’s highest-paid backup, the Cowboys feel confident in Kellen Moore. Jerry Jones reaffirmed this by calling Moore, “our guy” during an interview. The same was true even a year ago. Fans can play “what if” all they want regarding Romo’s 2016 preseason injury, but Moore also stood in the way of Prescott’s meteoric rise. He was slotted as the second string quarterback before fracturing his fibula during a training camp practice. Moore’s one-year, $615,000 contract is a far cry from the money Kaepernick seeks. The backlash factor here is a legitimate fear considering delusional Dallas fans still call themselves “America’s Team.”
11 COULD SIGN: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams had a trying first year in Los Angeles. The team lacked an offensive identity. Todd Gurley found himself stymied by defenses with no fear of the passing game. Jared Goff, the team’s first overall pick, took over at the midway point of the season and promptly went 0-7. The Rams even turned HBO’s Hard Knocks into a snooze fest. Los Angeles’ new head coach, Sean McVay, desperately needs to turn the team in the right direction. With Case Keenum hitting free agency, the Rams currently have Jared Goff, Sean Mannion and Aaron Murray on their roster. Why not continue Goff’s development while adding a veteran backup and insurance policy in Colin Kaepernick? He has the scrambling ability to survive LA’s porous offensive line, and he knows the NFC West. A large contingent of Rams supporters are left-leaning, fair weather fans. They would either pay the transaction no mind or actively support Kaepernick’s social awareness.
10 STAY AWAY: New England Patriots
Some men just want to watch the world burn. That’s Bill Belichick. He tosses around draft picks. He releases or trades key pieces from the team. He glowers at media from the safety of his trademark hoodie. Then, people hand him a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. It’s happened time and time again. New England won’t – and shouldn’t – pursue Colin Kaepernick, but just writing that thought into existence could trigger Belichick into another world-burning frenzy. He might trade Jimmy Garoppolo and cut Jacboy Brissett before replacing them with Colin Kaepernick and a third string hamster. Just to prove he can win anywa. Now, with that long-winded preface out of the way, there’s still no chance New England values Kaepernick. Aside from his ACL tear and suspension, Tom Brady doesn’t miss games. The team’s current backups went 3-1 in Brady’s absence to begin 2016. There’s no reason to shake things up, especially for a player who doesn’t necessarily fit the Patriot Way.
9 COULD SIGN: New Orleans Saints
The fact that the New Orleans Saints met with Johnny Manziel is damning to argument that Colin Kaepernick’s free agency issues are solely related to his skills. Manziel’s potential to excel as an NFL quarterback was questionable even before he Ryan Leaf’d his way out of the league. The Saints reportedly don’t have plans to sign Manziel, but the meeting highlights the reality that they could use better quarterback depth. Luke McCown and Garret Grayson sit behind Drew Brees on the depth chart. McCown is nothing special and Grayson has had difficultly developing. Brees is 38. Although he showed no signs of slowing down last season, there’s nothing behind him on the depth chart. It certainly couldn’t be considered a downgrade to add Kaepernick to the mix. New Orleans could sign Kap as a backup while simultaneously working on his mechanics. If Brees leaves or retires after his contract expires next offseason, Kaepernick would only be 30 years old.
8 STAY AWAY: Green Bay Packers
The opinion that the entire NFL has combined in an effort to blackball Colin Kaepernick is not without flaws. Only quarterback-needy teams can receive consideration in the equation. Organizations like the Patriots and Packers have zero desire to sign any backup, let alone a player with Kaepernick’s price tag. Ted Thompson, Green Bay’s GM, has involved himself in free agency far more often this year, but the Packers have holes at running back and throughout the defense – not quarterback. Aaron Rodgers possesses unmatched all-around ability at his position. The Packers are confident in their second and third string options. UCLA’s Brett Hundley flashed potential during his rookie preseason. His ankle injury robbed the Packers of another extended look at him in 2016, but it allowed Joe Callahan, an unknown rookie, to play his way onto the original 53-man roster. After brief stints with the Saints and Browns, Callahan found his way back to Green Bay’s active roster in December. There’s no room for Kaepernick in Lambeau.
7 COULD SIGN: Minnesota Vikings
This is admittedly the most farfetched hypothetical, but here’s a walkthrough. Reports suggest Teddy Bridgewater could miss all of the 2017 season. The Vikings have reason for concern regarding Bridgewater’s ability to ever return to his 2015 form. It’s why they traded for Sam Bradford. Although Bradford set an NFL record for single season completion percentage (71.6%), he is a brittle quarterback playing behind an anemic offensive line. Bradford is one hit away from a vacation on IR. Let’s say this injury occurs early in the season. Perhaps Kaepernick remains unsigned. Who would Minnesota have on its roster? The aging Shaun Hill was abysmal in his lone 2016 start and is currently a free agent. The Vikings know Taylor Heinicke is a long-term project. Minnesota might draft a quarterback, but the class appears thin. There’d be no excuse to pass over Colin Kaepernick at that point.
6 STAY AWAY: San Francisco 49ers
When Colin Kaepernick first opted out of his contract with the 49ers, some believed he might ultimately return to the Bay Area after testing free agency. San Francisco’s recent acquisitions prove that is not the case. New GM John Lynch signed two former Chicago quarterbacks, Brian Hoyer (two-year, $12 million) and Matt Barkley (two-year, $4 million). In a two-is-better-than-one decision, Hoyer and Barkley’s contracts combine for less than Kaepernick’s asking price. Additional elements make a reunion further unlikely. The 49ers are expected to fill their third quarterback spot with a draft pick. San Francisco also appears to be Kirk Cousins’ preferred landing spot assuming he parts ways with Washington in the coming years. If all else fails, maybe the team will complete its bizarre Bear collection and bring Jay Cutler on board.
5 COULD SIGN: Jacksonville Jaguars
Blake Bortles is the garbage time fantasy king. The funny thing about fantasy players who own garbage time is that they usually aren’t superb at their actual job. Bortles can attest to that. After the UCF product wowed fans with 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015 (again, usually while far behind), he regressed in 2016. His touchdown total fell to 23, and his completion percentage remained under 60. The Jaguars have a quarterback on their hands who is consistently erratic. Bortles still has time to revamp his mechanics and mentality, but he won’t find proper motivation without a genuine threat to his job security. Chad Henne, a 31-year-old veteran, sits behind Bortles on the depth chart. He’s not winning someone’s job any time soon. The other option, Brandon Allen, has not recorded a statistic in a regular season game. Jacksonville should acquire Colin Kaepernick. The move would light a sufficient fire under Bortles. Better yet, Kaepernick could compete and win the starting job. He’s good enough to thrive with Jacksonville’s exciting young defense.
4 STAY AWAY: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears hit the reset button at the quarterback position for 2017. All three of their quarterbacks from last season will play elsewhere. Chicago then made the most expensive quarterback signing of free agency. Mike Glennon joined the team for $45 million over three years. That’s obviously starter money, albeit for a man who has thrown 11 passes since 2015. The Bears have no intention of offering another quarterback a substantial fee to sit on the bench. It’s a similar situation to the 49ers. Although the contract numbers are flashy, Chicago can move after one season with little monetary damage. The team should look to the NFL Draft for a development project. Glennon will either thrive and become a long-time starter or afford Chicago a couple years of patience with their rookie selection. The Bears ultimately favor a journey into the unknown over a partnership with Kaepernick.
3 COULD SIGN: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins don’t want to admit it, but they gave a remarkably average quarterback a four-year, $77 million contract in 2015. Ryan Tannehill can do enough to keep his team afloat, but he will never become a big time quarterback in the league. His backup Matt Moore once again displayed a disappointing ceiling when Tannehill missed the end of the season with an ACL injury. The two quarterbacks have been in Miami together since 2012. It’s time to change the status quo. Kaepernick will provide better insurance for injury and foster competition. Quarterback controversies can be fatal to a team, but competition in camp breeds positive results. Head coach Adam Gase has a proven track record with quarterbacks. If anyone can help Kaepernick regain his old form, Gase is at the top of the list.
2 STAY AWAY: Baltimore Ravens
John Harbaugh has publicly reflected on the Kaepernick situation. If the Ravens were in the market for a quarterback, Harbaugh would definitely be open to signing him. Baltimore just isn’t looking at the moment. Apart from the Browns, all of the AFC North teams have reason to be confident at the position. Harbaugh likes his options with Joe Flacco and Ryan Mallett. The Steelers re-signed Landry Jones to back up Ben Roethlisberger. Cincinnati's second string, AJ McCarron has garnered interest from quarterback-starved teams. Both Harbaugh brothers spoke highly of Kaepernick. While Jim believes the 29-year-old will win championships with whatever team he goes to, John thinks Kaepernick is far too good to go unsigned. John knows first hand. Kaepernick posted 302 passing yards, 62 rushing yards and two total touchdowns against his team in a nail biting Super Bowl. Still, you can’t invent an area of need.
1 COULD SIGN: Buffalo Bills
Tyrod Taylor restructured his contract to remain in Buffalo. Although EJ Manuel departed for the Raiders, Cardale Jones remains on the roster as a project. Some might think the Bills would settle for the current situation, but adding Kaepernick with a short-term deal makes sense. Taylor’s mobility increases the likelihood of an injury. Cardale Jones is nowhere near ready to lead an NFL team. Kaepernick shares the same flaws as Tyrod – inconsistent accuracy and poor pocket presence – but they bring similar positives to the position as well. The Bills’ aerial game plan and scheme could remain largely unchanged if injury forced Colin Kaepernick to replace Taylor. Signing Kaepernick would mean the Bills don’t need to waste a pick on a quarterback in this year’s draft. Instead, they can cash in on the promising 2018 class.
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