On the eve of training camp for the 2017 NFL season, each team has turned its focus to the upcoming grind, and, of course, its respective Super Bowl aspirations. Though only a handful of clubs are truly capable of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in downtown Minneapolis this February, every player, coach, and owner likely still believes that, indeed, this could be their year.
Every team president and general manager has worked tirelessly to assemble the best possible product under the league’s rules and regulations. And while certain owners’ finances may give their teams a spending advantage, the playing field is mostly even and fair.
That parity has been one of the keys to the NFL becoming hands down the biggest sports league in America. With a $14-BILLION annual revenue stream, the NFL is a high-stakes game in which wins and losses cost owners, coaches, players, and even cities tens of millions of dollars.
Each season, every team installs its own philosophy with the goal of winning a Super Bowl in mind. Nearly every decision made is in some way designed to help pave a path to a world championship.
But this year, why are the majority of teams not giving themselves the best chance to win? They do everything stated above, yet are skipping an easily added piece – at the most important position.
Quarterbacks are at the heart of every NFL team. If you get a good one, they are harder to replace than any good GM or even a head coach. That’s why they get paid more than everyone else.
There are 32 starters and 32 backups across the league, while nearly every team will have a third QB on either the roster or practice squad. Yet somehow, a player who I’d rank at best 20th and at worst 40th among all quarterbacks hasn’t been added to a roster.
That player should be making somewhere between $3 million and $10 million, but remains unsigned. He’s traveling around the country, giving to community programs to better our society, yet nobody seems interested in him. He’s in the prime of his career, has very tangible tools that every team could use, has rarely had a teammate or coach speak badly of his character, yet he has no contract. I will add that the player hasn’t publicly spoken much about why he’s unsigned, or what he wants, but seems to be content handing out business suits to parolees and donating money to social causes throughout America.
If you explained this scenario to someone from say … Australia, they’d be wondering what the heck this guy must have done. Did he assault someone? No. Did he steal money from a teammate? No. Did he say he hates the military? Not that I recall. Did he say all police are bad people or racists? Nope, he didn’t do that either. Well, what could this man have done to warrant a lack of interest from nearly every NFL team?
He kneeled. That’s pretty much all he did. He kneeled down during the playing of our country’s national anthem, and it offended too many for the NFL to bear. I believe the look on that Australian’s face just went from intrigued to utterly confused.
People who love the NFL love America. The majority of its loyalist fans consider themselves patriotic supporters of our dedicated military members and police force. That demographic overlap fits like a perfect glove in most NFL cities, and more than anything else is why we see so much thanks and praise dished out in stadiums each fall. And it’s great that this happens. These courageous men and women, whether military or police or fireman, deserve recognition and a thank you. What they do allows the league and its players to make millions, and its fans to feel safe every day in America.
So, when Colin Kaepernick sat and then knelt for the national anthem last fall, right or wrong, millions of Americans were offended. They believed his lack of respect for those who protect him and the rest of us was unforgivable. His reasons for the protest are too complex for a small article on a sports website, but in essence he wanted to shine a spotlight on the abuses that occur to minorities by a small percentage of those who are paid to serve and protect them.
This isn’t an outrageous claim. It does occur. It’s a fact, and Kaepernick decided to protest in a peaceful way. Many Americans were nevertheless outraged, believing his kneeling for the anthem was a slap in the face to our troops despite Kaepernick repeatedly saying he respects what those brave women and men do for us all.
It quickly became a hot-button issue that was/is easy fodder for the political voices in America to separate us, again. Kaepernick’s gesture of kneeling seemed to split NFL fans into three categories. The first being those who felt it was wrong. The second being those who agree with him and support his causes. The third being people who just don’t care either way.
Meanwhile, the NFL and its franchises say they’re all about winning. They most certainly are. But winning is apparently No. 2 on the list of values deemed important across the league. The real No. 1 priority for each team is to make money, while winning comes second. In case that wasn’t clear before, the Kaepernick situation has ripped the curtain right off the hinges, revealing the true intentions of each NFL franchise. Signing him would hurt the bottom line, even if he helps the team win.
I’ve played and studied the quarterback position for well over half of my life. I believe I’ve seen brilliant offensive coordinators and coaches who can, and will, create an offense that best fits the players they have on their roster. At this point, a good NFL coach understands how to take advantage of pocket passers, running QBs, talented tight ends, multi-faceted running backs, depth at wide receiver, and winning with an undrafted free-agent center. These coaches aren’t dummies. The best ones may not prefer Kaepernick’s style of football, but they know they could create an offense that capitalizes on his skill set to win football games.
No, Kaepernick isn’t a great passer. Yes, he has flaws in his game and NFL teams prefer quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. The problem is that really good pocket passers are so rare that only half the league is fully committed to their starter long term. After that top 16, many teams could certainly use an upgrade, especially if it’s readily available. Good quarterbacks are a rare commodity.
Kaepernick can help a good team win football games. He doesn’t have the skill set to carry one on his back, but his style is conducive to keeping his side competitive.
Jim Harbaugh knows this. He used Kaepernick’s skill set to lead his talented 49ers team to within yards of winning the Super Bowl. That squad was loaded defensively, and could run the ball extremely well, partly because of Kaepernick. They won ugly, but they won. Since leaving for Michigan, Harbaugh has only had positive things to say about his former quarterback. He obviously liked Kaepernick as a player – and that’s coming from someone who’s never shy about expressing his displeasure.
Training camp opens up for every NFL team this week, and there will be over 100 quarterbacks on the field hoping to chase their respective dreams. Colin Kaepernick won’t be one of them. I’m interested to see – as quarterbacks get injured in the preseason and regular season – if he gets a phone call. It’s certain that lesser experienced, and way less talented, quarterbacks will be contacted. I know this because I was one of those guys.
The fact that nearly every NFL team hasn’t reached out to Kaepernick to simply have a conversation about being their backup quarterback, and to hear his side of the story, is the real shocker here. He’s stated he won’t kneel this year. He’s said he doesn’t want to be a distraction, despite his previous head coach, Chip Kelly, stating publicly that Kaepernick was not a distraction. Teammates have said he was an exemplary member of the 49ers. And at the minimum, teams looking to upgrade their rosters bring in free agents for visits. Only the Seahawks have done this with Kaepernick. The other 31 have said no thanks.
Yes, Kaepernick would be an outside distraction for any NFL team that brings him in, but it wouldn’t be an issue within the locker room. Instead, it would be an easy “news” story that’s used as clickbait by our country’s hungry media. It would lead to strong stances by the anti-Kap crowd, which would lead to fewer dollars for the NFL.
I recently spoke with an agent – one who’s represented multiple pro quarterbacks – and his stance was that Kaepernick is just too much of a distraction for NFL teams to want to deal with, and that his talent doesn’t outweigh the annoyance. My answer to him was that it would last for a day or two, and then everyone would move on to their business of winning football games. Imagine dealing with a short-term distraction that could hugely help your football team. Head coaches in the NFL have to do really hard press conferences sometimes. I don’t think this one would be that difficult.
But this concern is why Kaepernick hasn’t been signed. It’s not because he “sucks,” which is what I see on Twitter every day. It’s not because of his long hair, which Michael Vick stated last week. The reason Kaepernick isn’t signed is because he would cost the league, and the team that signs him, money.
If I was an offensive coordinator who only cared about winning football games, I’d love to have Colin Kaepernick as my backup quarterback. Yeah, I’d have to spend some extra time to create a running and passing package that best fits his skills, just in case we had to win a game with him as our starter some day. But, since NFL coaches work 80 hours a week, I bet we’d figure out how to use a quarterback who can run well, yet threw 16 touchdowns to only four interceptions last year. I bet he would give the team a chance to win more games than its current backup, with the exception of maybe a half-dozen situations such as New England, which has Jimmy Garoppolo waiting in the wings.
I can’t wait for the 2017 NFL season. It’s the greatest soap opera in sports because of its wide variety of personalities, its incredible feats of athleticism, and its nerve-racking finishes. But this year feels a little different for me. No longer will I believe an owner, president, general manager, or head coach when they say, “We are doing whatever we can to win each week.”
I understand that’s what they believe is true, but the fact is that winning is clearly not the most important thing in the NFL while Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned. I’m just calling a spade a spade before this circus hits the road on its way to Minneapolis in February.
Copyright © 2017 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.