It always strained credulity that Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers and Super Bowl runner-up quarterback, was not talented enough to play in the NFL—while not good, he was a competent quarterback in 2015, his most recent season, and he has had stretches of being outstanding. But there were some possible explanations for his continued unemployment as a football player.
For a while it was sort of possible to get behind the notion that teams didn’t want to sign Kaepernick because he would be a distraction—it was training camp and teams were preparing for the upcoming year and didn’t want the additional press and scrutiny which would have come with a Kaepernick signing. It almost even makes sense that a team with a young starting quarterback wouldn’t want to sign a more famous backup. But after bearing witness to the garbage fire that has been some teams’ quarterback play, and having seen other opportunities brought about by injury come and go, I think the quarterback-turned-activist-turned-political-punching-bag-turned-guy-who-hates-soldiers-and-freedom-for-some-reason has a legitimate case against the NFL colluding against him because of his political views.
Let’s examine the evidence, presented here in the form of (some of) the teams which probably should have signed him by now.
Seattle Seahawks: No, I’m not suggesting that Kaepernick would or should supplant Russell Wilson as the starter in Seattle. But his fit with the organization is almost too obvious—Seattle already employs Michael Bennett, one of the most outspoken, socially conscious players in the NFL. Seattle (though we have our share of bigots) is a very progressive city which would mostly embrace Kaepernick. (Seattle also has a sordid history with police violence, which in case people have forgotten, is actually what he is protesting). In addition, Kaepernick’s athleticism and arm strength make him an excellent backup in Seattle’s “let’s have Russell run around and do something” offensive system. And yet summer passed, and Kaepernick remained unsigned.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns’ struggles to find a quarterback are well-chronicled. In recent years, they have passed on currently successful young QBs Carson Wentz and DeShaun Watson, and DeShone Kizer (dead-last in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating this season) does not appear to be the answer. In addition, the Browns have won only one of their last twenty-two games. What does this mean? It means that A) There is virtually no chance that Kaepernick will be worse than the status quo and B) The excuse of Kaepernick being a “distraction” should actually work in Kaep’s favor. For the Browns of Cleveland, anything which distracts from the smoldering ruin of their on-field performance has to be viewed as a positive. And here we are, about to enter Week Seven, and there has been no whisper of Kaepernick donning the brown and orange of the Clevelanders.
Jacksonville Jaguars/Miami Dolphins: I’m grouping these teams together because the reasons are the same. They are the opposite of the Browns—decent teams with terrible quarterbacks holding them back. Jacksonville is probably better—they have an outstanding defense and an outrageously talented running back in Leonard Fournette—and with Kaepernick the case could easily be made that they would be a favorite for a playoff spot. But they sunk a high draft pick into Blake Bortles not long ago, and despite the fact that he is terrible (eighth worst in Total QBR), that sort of investment is hard to quit on. The Dolphins are similar—they also have a good defense and talented running back—but with even less of an excuse. After their starter injured himself before the season, they found themselves in need of a quarterback. So naturally, they went out and signed Jay Cutler—a thoroughly mediocre player even before he was washed up and who has long been among the most hated players in sports.
Tennessee Titans: Even before the season, signing Kaepernick would have made sense for the Titans. Friend and college teammate Rishard Matthews is one of the team’s top receivers and starter Marcus Mariota and Kaepernick have very similar styles of play. I’m not the only one who thinks so—coming out of college, Mariota was compared to Kaepernick in an official NFL Draft video. But when Mariota got injured in a recent game and the team worked out four quarterbacks who were not stylistically similar and also worse, that was the last straw. Kaepernick may have viewed it this way as well; less than two weeks later, he filed his grievance against the NFL.
And mind you, with the exception of the Seahawks, these are just cases where he could start. It is almost impossible to make the case that Colin Kaepernick is not one of the best sixty quarterbacks. The most logical answer, then, is collusion.
“But wait!” you say. “You are expecting me to believe that the National Football League has coordinated with its member organizations to punish an employee for speaking his mind? Next you’ll be telling me that they have engaged in a decades-long cover-up of the health outcomes of their industry which would make the tobacco companies jealous!”
Oh, and as a reminder, he’s peaceably protesting policy brutality against minorities. If that triggers you, snowflakes out there, maybe you should find something better to do with your Sunday afternoon.
After working in Washington, D.C., for two years, Andrew Orlebeke (’10) is in graduate school in Seattle, Washington, studying public policy. In addition to public service, he has a passion for traveling and an abiding love of sports.