By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Colin Kaepernick isn’t a great NFL quarterback. To say this is really not to wade into the lava of hot takery.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Steamy Heat Through Midweek
But he’s not a bad quarterback either. This was the ad hominem fired in the 2016 preseason at his protests of police violence, poverty and myriad intersectional social conditions. Kaepernick was at the time a mere backup with the 49ers. Therefore, his politics were somehow invalid. Then he regained a starting job and continued protesting but wasn’t a Pro Bowler, so again his stance was invalid.
Now a similar refrain is being chanted to mask a losing logic against Kaepernick’s politics and to justify him having no NFL contract currently. Yet almighty stats show us he deserves one. His numbers both for his career and in 2016 tell us that a player like him, on paper, receives an NFL roster spot or a tryout in camp at least — unless he has some serious health issue.
Kaepernick does, though, and it’s why he currently has no job and no invitations to work out for any NFL teams two weeks into free agency. Colin Kaepernick is listed as questionable with a case of autonomy. It’s the worst type of health issue, because NFL teams believe such a condition is contagious and threatens the delicate stasis of an organization.
Which is incredibly stupid to any of us who can think in terms beyond bumper stickers or who can look at Kaepernick being such a distraction to his team in San Francisco last season as he knelt during the national anthem — knelt instead of sat after having a productive discussion (imagine!) with veteran and former player Nate Boyer. Oh, how it got so bad that it forced his teammates to vote him the winner of their Len Eshmont Award, the team’s “most prestigious annual honor … given each year to the 49ers player who best exemplifies the ‘inspirational and courageous play’ of Len Eshmont.”
Mind you, after beginning the season as a backup and then starting 11 games, Kaepernick finished 2016 as 23rd in total QBR. That’s better than the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton and Eli Manning, among other current starters. Kaepernick’s 90.7 passer rating was 17th in the league. Not great numbers, they certainly don’t disqualify a 29-year-old player from a job.
The Tebow comparison is insulting to a player who almost led a team to a Super Bowl title and has the fifth-best career TD/INT ratio in league history. But making such a bad equation does make one realize that Tebow was given chances — and clamored for by loud chunks of fan and pundit chimps — to prove himself as an NFL player with multiple teams even after it was clear being a pro quarterback wasn’t viable.
Such isn’t the case with Kaepernick. Because of his permanent health issue. Owners and general managers are loath to spend money on a player with a history of injurious autonomy if his talent doesn’t far outweigh the perceived risk. If talent outweighs drug use or if talent outweighs a potential for violence toward women, sign the man up. But Kaepernick’s risk of injury is much greater. It’s potential injury to the robot factory of the NFL roster, injury to the delicate sensibilities of White America despite doing everything a protester is told to do to be “acceptable.”
It’s never enough, though, and it doesn’t mitigate the fears of NFL brass being infected, though.
But if you’re not still star quality and don’t “respect” the stars and stripes, you’re not worth it. “He disrespected the flag and the troops” is an interesting bad argument, too, because besides veteran after veteran noting that they didn’t fight for a flag or song but for Kaepernick’s right to protest, it also puts an inanimate object above very real people for whom Kaepernick showed the ultimate respect — publicly supporting them and drawing attention to their situation at the risk of his own professional well-being. And Kaepernick did it while donating lots of his money to their causes and other worthwhile ones while risking future earnings.
David Roth at Vice explained this week how Kaepernick is a bigger philanthropist than the president of the United States, who this week endorsed and took credit for the McCarthyism of blacklisting a non-criminal private citizen from NFL employment due to political beliefs. That people would so easily buy into the charade of the NFL’s now-defunct pink campaign in October and throw money at a scam was interesting. Because any of our moms or sisters or wives could be affected by breast cancer. But if the status quo protects my pink jerseyed relative or partner from a much scarier disease that lurks just shy of the suburbs and Kaepernick is disrupting the status quo with his social awareness and putting others above himself, there’s no charitable donation big enough he can make to get into my good graces. That is the greatest football disease of autonomy.
It’s why the New York Jets just signed Josh McCown, who’ll be 38 at season’s start and was last in total QBR of the eligible quarterbacks over the past three seasons. It’s why clearly bad quarterbacks like E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith received contracts this offseason. It’s why Mark Sanchez, he of 10 starts since 2014, is visiting with the Chicago Bears on Thursday.
This isn’t to say the Bears should sign Kaepernick to back up Mike Glennon to make a social statement. They’d never sign Kaepernick. The Bears are the most rigidly status quo team in a league hell-bent on remaining status quo. The Bears are about as progressive on dabbling in anything sociopolitical as they are flexible in thinking simply being the Chicago Bears is currency enough for players to want to sign with them and fans to love them. The Bears don’t risk the infection of autonomy.
Yet Kaepernick isn’t even going to protest during the national anthem anymore. And if he’s signed somewhere, he’ll get introductory press conference questions and some more at camp, and once those answers are exhausted, he’ll be forgotten about as a backup unless the starter gets injured or severely underperforms. Then the situation becomes having to play a quarterback with a pretty good resume for a No. 2 on the depth chart. What a plague that might be.
One of Kaepernick’s former coaches in San Francisco was Jim Harbaugh. When asked by Pro Football Talk Live’s Mike Florio if he’s been contacted by NFL teams about Kaepernick, Harbaugh said he has.
“He’s an outstanding player and I think he’s a great competitor who has proven it in games and has the ability to be not only an NFL starter but a great NFL player,” Harbaugh said via NFL.com.
“He’ll have a great career and be a great quarterback, win championships.”
Whether Harbaugh’s opinion will prove true is another discussion, but we do then know that teams are out there doing their due diligence on Kaepernick but not making him any offers. Which makes it easier to purport the BS that it’s a talent issue. Hey, (an older, probably looking for more money and doubtful to want to be a backup) Jay Cutler doesn’t have a job either, hmm hmm?
Cutler also has a slight case of autonomy and will shrug off a coach from time to time, but his condition isn’t as serious as that of Kaepernick, who’s not a great quarterback.
Just one with too much perceived potential for injuring something worse than bones or ligaments in the NFL.MORE NEWS: Family Of National Guardsman Chrys Carvajal Posts Flyers Around Belmont-Cragin, Offers Reward After He Was Shot And Killed
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.