Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been out of work since 2016 in large part due to his taking a knee during the National Anthem prior to games. But it’s not the only reason.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last night that he supports Kaepernick’s return to the NFL. As it is likely a majority of NFL players will follow Kaepernick’s example of taking a knee during the Anthem to protest police violence against unarmed black men, Kaepernick’s stigma as an activist will no longer be a barrier against his employment. General managers will decide his status based upon quarterback ability.
Whether he can still play after three seasons of dormancy will be determined in workouts. Whether he could play when he was still with the 49ers is on tape and in the numbers.
Let’s look at the numbers.
- As a starter, Kaepernick built a 28-30 record, including a 1-10 record during 2016 – his final season.
- His final two seasons, Kaepernick’s QBRs were 43.4 – ranking 30th; and 49.5 – ranking 22nd among QBs. (50 is supposed to be calculated as an average rating).
- In 58 starts, Kaepernick threw for an average of of 1.24 touchdowns per game. As a comparison over a similar period in the same era, Andrew Luck averaged two TDs per game. In 2015 and 2016, Kaepernick ranked 30th and 13th in touchdown percentage.
- Even in 2013 when the 49ers nearly won a Super Bowl, Kaepernick was good not great. The offense was run first because the defense, which ranked in the top 10 in almost every statistical category, was dominant. The running game ranked third in attempts and yards and fourth in TDs.
- Kaepernick ranked eighth in QBR and 10th in passer rating in 2013.
- At his best, which came in 2013, Kaepernick was a good starting quarterback who fit coach Jim Harbaugh’s system. And to be fair during his final season, he was much better than the 1-10 record the 49ers mounted with him as a starter. He got too much credit in 2013 and too much blame for 2016.
Roughly half of the NFL teams would benefit from Kaepernick as a back-up, but there are precious few if any where he fits as a starter – regardless of whatever baggage he might bring to a franchise – especially now that the baggage will be diffused by hundreds of players across many sports.
Kaepernick is now clearly on the right side of history for protesting against police brutality. We may be entering an era where the typical response to the National Anthem changes permanently from standing at attention to taking a knee to honor our flag, our country, and the fight for justice among people who have been preyed upon for 400 years – all because of Kaepernick.
Whether that makes Kaepernick slam dunk employable at the level of his choosing is a different issue. Will he be satisfied with a prove-it deal to carry a clipboard and hope for an opportunity? His answer to that question will determine whether 2020 will be yet another year when Kaepernick sits or suits up.