One of the biggest stories of the National Football League offseason has been the fate of former San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Some believe he remains unsigned because he was kneeling during the National Anthem last season as part of a public protest. But the real reason he’s unemployed is because he’s just not a very good quarterback these days, a shell of who he once was.
At one point, Kaepernick was a professional football sensation. He led his team, the San Francisco 49ers, to the 2012 Super Bowl, narrowly losing to Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens. But after signing a huge contract, Kaepernick has steadily declined as a player. Supporters are organizing a major civil rights protest on his behalf, but it is his poor play on the field, and not his views or protest, which is why no NFL has picked him up yet.
Not Guilty Of An NFL Ratings Decline
Kaepernick’s decision to kneel, not stand, during the National Anthem as a result of many police shootings of African-Americans, got a lot of attention last year. Critics blamed Kaepernick for what was perceived as a decline in the NFL ratings. Yet the San Francisco QB not responsible for any ratings decline that occurred early on, as only three percent of those surveyed who showed evidence of being a sports fan, attributed their actions to Kaepernick.
Moreover, the perceived “boycott” of professional football over Kaepernick’s protest failed to materialize. Attendance actually increased at NFL games in 2016. It remained unchanged in San Francisco.
In addition, NFL viewership rebounded, demonstrating that any perceived “boycott,” if it actually did occur, was ephemeral at best. BoycottNFL failed, and even Donald Trump, who criticized Kaepernick, ran ads during NFL games. Given how rarely San Francisco appeared on television, it’s not surprising. Other sports experienced a similar decline during that time as well.
As a result, however, Kaepernick cannot blame his kneeling for his current situation. In addition, Kaepernick has pledged he will not repeat his protest of last year, further weakening the argument that his protest is costing him a job.
Kaepernick’s Poor Play Explains His Situation
Supporters of Kaepernick are quick to dismiss arguments that he had a poor 2016 campaign. After all, they contend that he threw 16 touchdown passes against four interceptions, which does seem impressive. But here are a few other statistics to consider.
Pro-Football-Reference.com gathers all statistics on passers for the 2016 season. Kaepernick might have a nice TD-INT ratio, but that’s it. When it comes to pass completion percentage, Kaepernick finished 26th out of 30 passers, completing 59.2 percent of his passes, behind Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo and Case Keenum of the Los Angeles Rams.
Kaepernick has a Quarterback Rating from ESPN of 55.2, making him 23rd in the NFL. That puts him behind the much-maligned Brock Osweiler, let go by the Houston Texans, as well as Denver Broncos QB rookie Trevor Siemian, who will have a fight on his hands to keep his job.
Kaepernick did finish in the top ten…in being sacked (despite starting fewer games than most of the regular starters), finishing second in the league in percentage of times sacked when attempting to pass. That’s why he had the third worst “net yards” in the league (pass yards minus sack yards) for starters.
He rushed for two touchdowns, but fumbled nine times, good enough for third in the league among all quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. He was first among quarterbacks in rushing yards per game (39, just ahead of Tyrod Taylor), but not much better than Christine Michael (cut by Seattle) and just behind Chris Ivory of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Moreover, given that he started 11 games, 16 touchdown passes won’t help you as much in the win column.
Most importantly, with Kaepernick at the helm, the team only won one game, losing 10, the worst starter record in 2016. Even his teammate, Blane Gabbert, only won one game while losing four games.
Kaepernick Created This Situation, Not The NFL
“The NFL power brokers have the supreme dominance to enforce their take it or leave it imperium on the players, fans, and politicians,” writes Earl Ofari Hutchinson with the Huffington Post. “And that’s exactly why Kap doesn’t have an NFL job.”
But it’s not that simple. If the NFL had that much power and clout, and were displeased, Kaepernick would have been cut during the preseason when the protests began, or during the season. In fact, it was Kaepernick who told the team he would be opting out of his contract while the season was still going, embarrassing the 49ers. He claims he would have been cut (and he certainly wasn’t worth the $17 million on that contract) but he was hoping for a more lucrative deal. It’s clear that this wasn’t the case.
If Tom Brady or Cam Newton took a knee, they’d still be playing because the two have shown greatness in recent years, while Kaepernick has not done so. The NFL is about winning and money. Since Kaepernick didn’t cost the NFL money, but hasn’t won much in the last few years, it’s pretty obvious why he’s unemployed.
Kaepernick will likely catch on with a team, probably as a backup. He’s even been offered a backup job, but turned it down because he wants starter money. If he recognizes that his situation is the result of needing to improve on the field, and not political bias, he has a chance to return to the strong player he was in years past.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.