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Over two months into NFL free agency, Colin Kaepernick still hasn’t signed with a team, and the concerns over why are growing louder.
One of the common beliefs is that Kaepernick’s national anthem protest has turned off teams who disagree with his politics or don’t want to deal with the media attention that follows him.
In an offseason in which Mike Glennon got $18 million from the Bears and Ryan Fitzpatrick got $3 million to back up Jameis Winston on the Buccaneers, many people find it hard to believe that Kaepernick’s unemployment is solely due to football.
However, as detailed by ESPN’s Mike Sando, Kaepernick’s protest may just be another factor working against him. Sando collected quotes from NFL executives, personnel directors, and coordinators from December 2013 to now, revealing the evolving opinions of Kaepernick around the NFL. One thing stands out: some within the league have changed their opinions of Kaepernick and have been souring on him as a franchise quarterback for years.
While some NFL insiders always worried about Kaepernick’s inability to make throws that weren’t fastballs, many liked other attributes of his game. Said one GM after Kaepernick signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the 49ers in 2014, “With Colin, he can beat a defense with his arm. Now, does he read coverages great? No. But if things are clicking for him, he can throw fastballs. He can overpower a defense with his arm, and he’s had some great games.”
One defensive coordinator said of Kaepernick in the summer of 2014, “He can affect the game on so many levels … He has kind of revolutionized some stuff.”
However, in the summer of 2015, after the 49ers went 8-8 and Kaepernick threw just 19 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and completed 60.5% of his passes, the NFL began to turn on him. One coach told Sando, “Kap went off the reservation last year, fundamentally. He got a little bit diva delusional and forgot what got him there.”
According to Sando, word around the NFL by October 2015 was that Kaepernick had attitude concerns and isolated himself, with an opponent offensive coordinator saying he heard Kaepernick “walks around the building all day long with his headphones on.”
By the summer of 2016, Kaepernick had lost a significant amount of weight after coming off three offseason surgeries and seemed to be out of favor with head coach Chip Kelly. Already, rumors of Kaepernick’s desire to play football were surfacing. One offensive coordinator told Sando:
“There is something missing there with him. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it is the desire to play. That is the feeling that I get from watching him and when he talks about football and all you hear [around the league]. I just don’t know if he loves the game, and for me, a guy who has talent like that to be so inconsistent, if he doesn’t love it, he is never going to be that great.”
Rumors of Kaepernick’s desire to play have surfaced this offseason as well. MMQB’s Peter King reported that some people within the 49ers wondered if football was Kaepernick’s top priority. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reported in August 2016 that some people expected Kaepernick to pursue social work if he was cut by the 49ers.
After sitting behind Blaine Gabbert to start the 2016 season, Kaepernick played 12 games for the 49ers, completing 59% of his passes for over 2,200 yards, 16 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 90.7 passer rating – decent numbers, all things considered.
Kaepernick opted out of his contract and became a free agent in March but has not received serious interest from any teams. According to some NFL insiders, it’s not worth designing a specific system for Kaepernick to succeed in – not for a backup.
One executive told Sando, “The difficulty with that guy or a quarterback with a different skill set is how you structure the offense around him if he is a [backup]. You have to incorporate the skills of a certain player the more he plays. The less he plays, it is harder to do that.”
- Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
However, it’s clear that Kaepernick’s protest – though he reportedly plans to end it this season – has affected his image around the league.
“I think the protest stuff gave people a little pause because anytime you did mention his name, it is a little polarizing,” a personnel director told Sando.
A coordinator who had previously praised Kaepernick’s character told Sando in May, “I think he went the wrong way, and then people got mad at him for it … and now he is trying to kiss everybody’s ass to get a paycheck now that he ain’t getting paid, so I’m not buying any of his s—.”
Another personnel director explained why Kaepernick simply isn’t worth signing:
“You bring him in, and it is a media onslaught. It is not good or bad. It’s just, every time there is a social issue or anything that comes up, they are going to call him, they are going to want his feedback. Is that wrong? No, it’s not wrong. But he has thrust himself out there, much like Tim Tebow has with other various items or agendas. Is it really worth it?”
It remains unclear where Kaepernick may end up. On Wednesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Kaepernick will meet with the Seattle Seahawks, who have mentioned that they may be interested in signing him. However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter also reported that the meeting was “standard” and nothing imminent.
In the meantime, Kaepernick has been working out in New York City, with his trainer telling King that Kaepernick is in excellent shape and dedicated to continuing to play football.
With training camp only three months away, it will be revealing to see how much longer Kaepernick is on the market, and if he ends up with a team, which one and in what capacity.