The National Football League is back, playing on fields across America.
Colin Kaepernick is not.
There has been a lot of speculation in the national media this summer and during preseason as to why that is. The answer is really a lot more simple than people make it out to be.
The NFL does not care if you don’t stand up for the national anthem. Even this season, there are still players on the sidelines sitting during the anthem. They still have their jobs.
The reason Kaepernick does not is because the national media made him into their pet project, much like they did in recent years with Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel. The constant reporting of matters related to those players created a media circus around them and created a distraction for their teammates.
Following Tebow’s outlier playoff run in 2011, he was traded to the Jets, where he was discussed daily on virtually every national sports talk show there was. Then what happened?
The Jets went 6-10 and finished tied for last in their division. They had been 8-8 and missed the playoffs by one game the year before. They had been 11-5 and made the playoffs the year before.
Now, a lot of things change in the NFL from week to week, let alone season to season, so to try to say Tebow was the determining factor in turning a playoff contender into a bottom of the division squad would be asinine. However, it was a contributing factor. His presence created a divide in the locker room of players who wanted him to take over for a struggling Mark Sanchez and players who believed in Sanchez, who had helped guide them to the postseason in 2010.
Sanchez was a player the team had traded up to draft No. 5 overall in 2009. To then have that quarterback lead the team to the playoffs a year later should have instilled a lasting commitment to Sanchez as the developing future of the franchise for at least another year, maybe even two, before Tebow arrived in New York.
It didn’t. Instead, Tebow came to town and Head Coach Rex Ryan, Sanchez and his teammates were suddenly regularly answering questions about the backup quarterback. Sanchez obviously felt the pressure and it was reflected in a terrible season for both he and the team. In the games Tebow played, he didn’t fare much better. That was the start of a downward spiral for the team that it still hasn’t recovered from.
Tebow hasn’t played a regular season snap in the NFL since.
Enter Johnny Manziel. Tebow’s absence from the NFL created a media vacuum and Manziel was sucked directly into it. He became the new football focal point of sports talk.
The Browns had been terrible for several years before landing Manziel in the draft, but his presence didn’t end up doing the team any favors. Furthermore, the constant negative attention couldn’t have been a help to a team needing to attract free agents to help rebuild.
Manziel ended up being drummed out of the league at the end of the 2015 season.
Tebow got another shot in the 2015 preseason with the Eagles and the national sports media again flocked to cover every time they touched the ball. He ended up not making the roster and was cut at the end of the preseason.
Then the 2016 season came along and without Tebow or Manziel in the league, the national sports media again needed somebody to fill that vacuum. The response that Kaepernick’s silent protests during the anthem garnered made him the perfect player for their constant spotlight.
Never mind that Kaepernick wasn’t even the starting quarterback on his team at that point. Mizzou alumnus Blaine Gabbert had won the starting job in the preseason. Then Kaepernick’s protests began and the questions quickly began to follow about when the job would be his again instead of Gabbert’s.
That’s almost like the kiss of death for a team. Quarterbacks who perform well with the media constantly debating whether the guy behind them on the depth chart should have their job or not are very few indeed. It puts that player in a position where they have to win every single week or go home after the game wondering if they just lost their job. I can only imagine the amount of undue stress and pressure it must create.
Not that Gabbert had performed well in his previous stint as the quarterback in Jacksonville, but it comes as no surprise that he wasn’t able to succeed in that situation. By Week 6, Kaepernick was the starter again.
The team finished 2-14. Kaepernick went 1-10 as the starter. The one team he beat, the Rams, by just one point, had also lost to the Gabbert-led 49ers 28-0 in Week 1.
Kaepernick became a free agent at the end of the season and was not signed by any NFL team, despite constant questioning and opinion dissemination from the national sports media any time there was even a hint that a job might be open.
Joe Flacco hurt his back? Oh my, will the Ravens sign Kaepernick?
Ryan Tannehill had season-ending knee surgery? Oh my, surely the Dolphins will sign Kaepernick now.
Nope. He still doesn’t have a job, and not because he’s not better than some of the quarterbacks currently playing in the league. It’s because in order to have sustained success at that level, you need to be committed as a franchise to developing one quarterback and doing everything possible to ensure that player is in an environment to succeed. Look at the most successful franchises of the past decade — the Patriots, the Giants, the Seahawks and the Steelers. Each of those teams committed to their franchise quarterbacks early in their careers and once they were named the starter, they didn’t have to look over their shoulders for a backup coming to take their jobs.
Just for an example, Kaepernick is certainly a better option to win games than Scott Tolzien, currently playing for Indianapolis while Andrew Luck is out with a shoulder injury. Luck is reportedly at least a month away from getting back on the field. With Tolzien at the helm, they could very likely be 0-5 or 0-6 by the time Luck gets back on the field. There goes virtually any chance the Colts had at the playoffs.
Maybe Kaepernick could help them win one or two of those games. Maybe. He’d certainly give them a better chance. However, judging from the past, it would likely not be in the Colts’ best long-term interests. It might give them a better chance to win now, but theoretically what happens if Kaeperick were signed by the Colts tomorrow and started right away and won 3-4 of his starts? Then, hypothetically, let’s say Luck returns and loses his first two games back from the injury. Do you really think the questions wouldn’t start about why Kaepernick wasn’t starting?
Andrew Luck is a franchise quarterback with the potential to play at the Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers level. Quarterbacks with that level of skill exists in maybe a handful of players in the NFL at any one time. Kaepernick is merely serviceable.
Yet, because of the media attention Kaepernick garners, he could be toxic to the other quarterback on his team if brought into a position that could in any way be construed as a position battle.
It would be the same if the Ravens had signed him. Flacco didn’t even miss the season opener with his back soreness. The Ravens have Flacco signed to one of the priciest deals in the league. They’re committed to him for the long term. If Kaepernick were on the team and Flacco started the season 1-4 or 2-5, then the questions would undoubtedly start to swirl. As it is, there is no reason to even think that commitment would waver. Flacco’s job is safe. And having it be so is what’s best for the team’s long-term future.
For one more example, let’s look to the Rams. The Rams just traded up to draft Jared Goff No. 1 overall a year ago. He’s getting his first whole season as a starting quarterback to show what he can do. Could the Rams win more games with Kaepernick starting this year instead of Goff? Probably. But would having Kapernick back up Goff or compete to take the job away from him with the media watching at every turn negatively impact Goff’s development? History suggests so. Best to not risk it.
That’s just three situations out of 32 teams in the league, I know. Maybe a position will open somewhere this season that ends up being just right for Kaepernick. Maybe not. But the constant media scrutiny Kaepernick will bring with him makes it very hard for that right fit to exist, and unless you’re willing to completely commit to Kaepernick and build a team to fit his style of play, bringing him in might help you go from a terrible team to a subpar team, or from a subpar team to a mediocre team. If you’re lucky, maybe he can even take you from a mediocre team to a playoff team. But the odds aren’t in your favor and that’s an awful big maybe for a coach or a general manager to risk their jobs or their careers over.