As the sports world continues to talk about Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment, many insist he is being “blackballed” by the NFL. However, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer talked to several executives who represent teams in need of a quarterback, and, according to them, Kaepernick’s politics were the last thing on their minds.
Breer wanted to find out what insiders among the teams who might have interest in Kaepernick’s services would say, privately, about why their decision making process.
Breer spoke to four insiders who, despite having quarterback needs, never brought the issue of Kaepernick to ownership.
Not a single one of the executives said that Kaepernick’s political crusades kept him off their roster. Breer allowed the execs to stay anonymous to get their honest appraisal:
Executive 1: “It’s not something we discussed, so to talk about reasoning, we’re talking hypotheticals. … Certainly he’s good enough to be a backup. … But we have a good No. 2, a guy that fits our system that we have familiarity with. He’s here for the same reason that [Dolphins coach] Adam Gase goes back to [Jay] Cutler. We know exactly what we’re going to get from the guy. Physically, Kaepernick’s more talented, but familiarity with a backup at that position, knowing exactly what you’re going to get, is more important than the ‘wow’ factor. … It’s like with [Robert Griffin III]; you had him playing a certain way, and he was a hell of a player. But as soon as defenses figured out what they were, and a specific way to play them, that’s where they had to be able to start to win from the pocket. If you can’t do that in this league, it’s tough.”
Executive 2: “From our end, it never got down to [going to the owner]. To me, the protests, all that, it wasn’t even a factor for us. It was the ability to fit within our offense. He doesn’t throw the ball great, he’s more of an on-the-move, zone-read type of quarterback. He needs to be in a specific system. For us, it was a system thing. What he does well is totally outside what most teams do. And so here’s my question: I understand the Kaepernick deal, why it’s news, but nobody’s talking about RG3? I know since it’s Kaepernick, it’s what sells, but the problem that RG3 has getting a job is the same as Kaepernick for a lot of teams.”
Executive 3: “I don’t like the guy as a player. I don’t think he can play. I didn’t think he could play at Reno, I don’t think he can play now. … You don’t think if he was a good player, 20 teams would be lining up? … He’s inaccurate, inconsistent reading defenses. He needs everything to be perfect around him, and he needs to run a certain offense. When he was rolling, they had an unbelievable defense and a great running game with an amazing offensive line. Everything was perfect. And you consider that, why isn’t there a debate about RG3? He just wasn’t a consideration.”
Coach: “No. 1, he was perfect for San Francisco. They were willing to build around him, which he needs. He’s not a pocket passer. So if you bring him in as a backup, and you’re not Seattle or Carolina, and you don’t have those things built in, it’s like you’re running a different offense with your 1s and your 2s. Mike Shanahan had a great theory on this—he wanted to draft Russell Wilson [in 2012], because if something happened to Robert [Griffin], the transition would be clean and easy. So Kaepernick almost has to be in a place where they’ll build a system for him, and teams don’t do that for backups. That’s why his name never even came up here.”
Breer noted, “I spoke with three other teams where top officials didn’t want to delve too far into the issue but lined up with the others—any discussion on signing Kaepernick didn’t get very far. One thing that also was clear was that different circumstances were at play in each situation.”
And there’s no question that the anthem protest is a factor here, to be clear. But as the football people I spoke to (and have spoken to for the past half-year) see it, and this sounds harsh, the protests are just a piece of a complicated picture for a player who simply was deemed not to be worth the trouble.
“There’s been a lot of noise about this, obviously,” said an AFC executive. “But at the end of the day, we’re part of the ultimate meritocracy. So if someone feels like this guy can help win games, he’ll be in the league.”
So back to the definition of “blackball.” Would Kaepernick’s situation qualify? You can be the judge of that.
The execs that Breer spoke to had far more to say, granted, but the upshot is that Kaepernick’s political crusade simply wasn’t a factor. Therefore, no blackballing had occurred, at least as far as these execs were concerned.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.