The Colin Kaepernick Riddle
Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler… Colin Kaepernick. What is the theme here? All these quarterbacks are just blah. None of them, heading into the 2017 season, are really any good. The only one of the four that has been signed by a team is McCown, and that is by the New York Jets because, well… it is the Jets. However, only one of them is surrounded by a firestorm and that is Kaepernick. Kaepernick notoriously sat, then knelt during the national anthems in preseason of last year and continued the practice into the regular season. This offseason, he is a free agent and is on record as saying he will stand for the national anthem, but teams have been reluctant to sign him. Spike Lee thinks it is all a little fishy, but when it comes to Colin Kaepernick and separating fact from fiction, the truth is relatively simple; Kaepernick is just not that good.
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Even when Kaepernick was leading the San Franicisco 49ers to the Super Bowl he was not that good. The main priority for an NFL quarterback is to pass. When it comes to passing, Colin Kaepernick is plain bad. In a fantastic article about Kaepernick’s inability to merely throw the ball where he wants, Kevin Seifert of NFL Nation reveals Kaepernick’s accuracy was his weakest trait even when he was winning games.
From 2012-2014, Kaepernick threw 50 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions (he also rushed for an additional 10 while fumbling 26 times, losing 19). However, during his most productive seasons, “Kaepernick was one of the league’s least-accurate quarterbacks. His 60.1 completion percentage ranked No. 23 in the NFL, and his percentage of off-target throws — judged on video by ESPN Stats & Information — ranked No. 18 (17.6 percent).” When you are setting the world on fire and are rushing for more yards and touchdowns than anybody not named Cam Newtown (2015 MVP) and Russell Wilson (2014 Super Bowl winner), you can get away with not being able to throw the football. But that did not last.
Kaepernick was not helped in the least bit by the 49ers management and coaching situation and his play suffered after the 2014 campaign. “Since the start of the 2015 season, Kaepernick ranks last in the NFL among 35 qualified passers in off-target percentage (22.6). His completion percentage ranks No. 32 at 59.1.” The Nevada product is merely incapable of completing the most crucial aspect of quarterbacking, namely throwing a football accurately. He still has good touchdown to interception numbers with a 21:9 ratio, but while at first glance it seems he is taking care of the ball, his rushing propensities have hurt him.
In the past he was able to make up for his lack of passing skills with his running abilities, but in his last two seasons as a quarterback (21 games and 19 starts) he has just three rushing touchdowns while losing nine fumbles (14 total fumbles, nine lost). That once above average number of 21:9 is actually a pedastrian 24:18. While that is average, it does not compel any team to want to take a flyer on him, especially when factoring in his high sack rate (9.8% in 2016, 10.3% in 2015).
Why is this so Tricky?
The question of whether or not Colin Kaepernick is worth the flyer though cannot be boiled down strictly to numbers. Spike Lee is nominally right (ugh… shudder) when he says something is fishy when it comes to NFL teams not wanting Kaepernick as a quarterback. Can Kaepernick be good? Yes, we have seen that in the past when he captured lightning in a bottle his first three seasons as a starter. However, Spike Lee is completely wrong (there, that is better) when looking at Kaepernick’s recent performances. What he has done over the last two years on the field–and the mountains of tape of just how bad his accuracy issues are–is enough to make teams think twice about signing him as a backup. However, it is his actions on the sidelines and off the field that has made him persona non grata around the NFL.
His stance last season was something he felt compelled to do (whether wrongly or rightly, this is America, and you get to do whatever you want so long as you are not infringing on somebody else’s rights). He wanted to make a point and he made it. He says he will no longer protest the national anthem and does not want to be a distraction to any team that wants to sign him. Some people think that rings hollow, but it again is his choice (I would also point out my principles stop somewhere around the $5 million mark, where do yours?).
For everything you can say in support of Kaepernick though, his actions off of the field make NFL teams wary. As much as the national anthem protests were an issue, his showing up drastically underweight (anywhere from 10 to 25 pounds) was the bigger problem. If you cannot throw a football accurately and you have to run to help the team win, showing up underweight and more prone to injury is not a good way to prove to teams you care about winning. Many general managers would immediately pick up Kaepernick if he was Atlanta Falcons or even Philadelphia Eagles era Michael Vick.
Stigma does not get you black-balled from the NFL. Poor performance does. Cam Newton could slaughter a goat while pledging fealty to Satan on his Instragram account and if the Panthers cut him, half the NFL would drive Brinks trucks right up to his doorstep. But Kaepernick is not Newton. Kaepernick showed up underweight for a crucial season. That, along with his lack of accuracy, is more damning than any national anthem protests. Showing up underweight is one of those subliminal messages to NFL general managers that his priorities are out of line with winning football games. And winning football games is all anybody cares about. Kaepernick spends tons of time with charity work and this is extremely commendable. But to the NFL and the people that sign quarterbacks, they do not care how many Somalians he helps if he cannot help his team win a game.