The NFL draft is in the books. Free agency is running on fumes. Offseason quarterback programs are in full swing and full-squad minicamps commence next month. For quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the reality is sinking in: the offseason clock is running out.
And with each passing day, it’s looking more and more like the NFL is determined to leave him behind. Perhaps inexplicably and maybe permanently.
That’s what the absolute silence is suggesting now – that 32 franchises (with at least 32 different decision-makers) have all come to the same conclusion: the 29-year-old former Super Bowl quarterback isn’t even worthy of a tryout. That’s in contrast to the likes of Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles and many others who have all found new teams this offseason. Blaine Gabbert joined that list on Wednesday after he reportedly got a deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
Meanwhile, nearly 10 weeks into free agency, not a single franchise has been confirmed to have even called about Kaepernick.
Which – regardless of Kaepernick’s politics – is a remarkable reality considering the NFL is a quarterback-driven league that never seems to have enough talent at the position. Despite that reality, Kaepernick hasn’t secured even a single visit in free agency.
There has been no shortage of theories for that, of course. In fact, since the San Francisco 49ers‘ season ended, there seems to be a new brand of reasoning every few weeks. With that in mind, Yahoo Sports spoke to a handful of NFL evaluators and those also familiar with Kaepernick to gain some realistic perspective on the free-agent silence surrounding the quarterback.
Among the theories …
One side of the story: Kaepernick’s weight dipped to as low as 205 pounds after recovery from injuries to his knee, thumb and non-throwing shoulder. Surgeries and weight loss raised concern over whether he would ever be a player who could once again take the punishment incurred by his playing style. His arm strength and movement on tape wasn’t what it once was. And magnifying the issue was vague concern over Kaepernick’s vegan diet, specifically whether he could retain a weight and build necessary for his NFL job.
The other side of the story: A source familiar with Kaepernick’s offseason workouts told Yahoo Sports the QB has recovered to his playing weight of 230 pounds and is also fully recovered from all his past surgeries. In short, he’s feeling 100 percent healthy and willing to showcase the arm strength and movement to prove it. And the vegan diet? It’s worth noting that Tony Gonzalez, Arian Foster and Ricky Williams all posted high-level performances after adopting diets that were either fully vegan or extremely close to it. There is no proven data suggesting a vegan diet has any impact on NFL performance. Suggestions to the contrary appear to either be conjecture or opinions based on stereotype.
One side of the story: Kaepernick opted out of a contract that would have paid him $14.5 million in base salary in 2017 and was seeking $9 million to $10 million in base salary with any new suitor.
The other side of the story: Sources close to Kaepernick deny that he has spoken to any team about a salary, let alone had discussions about a contract or signing. And thus far, not one NFL source has been able to confirm to Yahoo Sports any number that Kaepernick is looking for in terms of contract price or even structure. In turn, not even one NFL team is confirmed to have had any financial talks with Kaepernick. By all accounts, the financial barrier to Kaepernick landing with a team appears to be bogus at this stage.
One side of the story: One personnel evaluator told Yahoo Sports that Kaepernick has shown an erosion of skills since being sidelined by a spate of injuries in 2015. Another said his mechanical discipline has suffered as well – either due to injuries or the departure of Jim Harbaugh following the 2014 season. Whatever the factors have been, Kaepernick is being billed as a player who has declined from his peak season in 2013. How widely that opinion is shared is a matter of speculation, but it has been a strong theme since last season in media reports.
The other side of the story: Statistically, Kaepernick’s passing numbers in 12 games last season were fairly solid among starting quarterbacks (2,241 passing yards, a 59.2 percent completion rate, 16 touchdown passes against four interceptions and a 90.7 quarterback rating). He also ran for 468 yards and two touchdowns. At worst, his numbers put him in the lower third among NFL starting quarterbacks.
The most optimistic of supporters would argue he was a middle-tier starter. What’s not up for argument is whether the 49ers were a bad team operating under a significant malaise regarding the future of head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke. In terms of work environments, it wasn’t a great place to be in 2016 – further evidenced by the clean sweep in the front office and coaching staff after the season. Given that reality, Kaepernick kept the 49ers’ offense competitive in a few games down the stretch. Particularly after a 31-24 loss to Miami on Nov. 27. He accounted for a surprising 409 yards of total offense in that defeat, along with three passing touchdowns. He followed that up with an overtime loss to a bad New York Jets team, a road win over the sinking Los Angeles Rams and a close home loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
While it might be a stretch to label Kaepernick’s last six starts as impressive (or even above average), it would be fair to say a poorly built 49ers team managed to compete down the stretch. In truth, that’s more than can be said about a number of quarterbacks signed by other NFL teams this offseason.
It’s one thing to argue that based on performance, Kaepernick isn’t starting material in the NFL. But it’s a whole other to argue he isn’t even worth a look.
4. Social activism
One side of the story: The evaluators who spoke with Yahoo Sports were careful about wading deeply into the pool where it concerned Kaepernick’s social stances. The blanket terms that typically apply to Kaepernick having knelt for the national anthem and spoken in depth about racial issues in America are “baggage” and/or “distractions.” In the parlance of the NFL, these are terms applied when teams avoid players whose potential public relations or locker room challenges outweigh their performance on the field. Essentially, teams will embrace players who may be unpopular in some respect – so long as they produce at a high level. But the league has also frowned historically upon players who place some other pursuit above football. In some quarters, Kaepernick is questioned along all those lines: public relations, team chemistry, fan support and outside pursuits. The latest example came from MMQB’s Peter King this week, when he said some in the 49ers organization questioned whether Kaepernick “might actually rather do social justice work full-time than play quarterback.”
The other side of the story: Those close to Kaepernick see the whole “more interested in social justice than football” as the latest iteration of excuses for why NFL teams won’t even look at Kaepernick. On one hand, there’s no denying that Kaepernick’s social activism is important to him. He has stated that plainly and repeatedly in the past. But Kaepernick’s backers also point out that he hasn’t been arrested. There’s no video of him punching a woman in the face or sucking down bong hits through a gas mask. He’s not in the league’s drug-testing program and has never been suspended for PED use. The point? There are hundreds of different headaches in the NFL that teams deal with over and over. And many of those players still have job opportunities. As do other players who took their own social stances last season (including some during the national anthem). But for some reason, because Kaepernick is donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to rights advocacy or giving away suits to former convicts who have lined up job interviews, he’s seen as being more interested in that than football. Meanwhile, no team has sought out a meeting or workout with Kaepernick to ask him personally where his passions lie. Again, it stacks up more along the lines of assumption than informed opinion based on first-person interaction.
One or many of these reasons could be billed as why NFL teams aren’t reaching out to Kaepernick. Or it could simply be a matter of perception. Teams don’t perceive his football worth as outweighing whatever they’d encounter by working him out, meeting with ownership for approval, going to the bargaining table, and then managing whatever portion of the fan base responds negatively.
There are 32 teams with 32 different stories. Maybe some don’t need Kaepernick. Maybe some don’t believe in his talent or ability. Or maybe some simply don’t want him in their organization. Regardless of the reason, everyone in the league is moving forward now. And the later it gets into the offseason, the more likely it becomes that the NFL is leaving Kaepernick behind.
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