The fact that the talented and outspoken quarterback remains unsigned is the leagues greatest shame right now
A city as polarized as Baltimore, where last year the Department of Justice found a shocking system of racial profiling and abuse by police, could use a player who raises the questions Colin Kaepernick has presented over the last year. Then again, those who buy suites at M&T Bank Stadium arent usually the ones experiencing the issues Kaepernick raises.
Kaepernick could have been a good fit, too, for the Miami Dolphins, who signed Jay Cutler now that quarterback Ryan Tannehill may be out for the year with a serious knee injury. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has said he hopes Kaepernicks social activism isnt keeping him out of the league, making him perhaps one of the few owners willing to take a chance on Kaepernick. But Miami coach Adam Gase worked well with Cutler when Gase was the Bears offensive coordinator, which made Cutler a safe choice for him. Gases pick of Cutler was a football decision.
And so, it seems, the window on Colin Kaepernicks career may be slamming shut: if it doesnt happen now, in training camp before the pre-season games start, the chances he gets back into the league become increasingly unlikely. And what message would that send to NFL players who have finally found their voice on topics far more vital than taking it one game at a time and just trying to help the team?
Certainly, there may never be a better situation for Kaepernick than the Baltimore Ravens: a stable franchise with a powerful African American general manager, a head coach who is the brother of the coach for whom Kaepernick had his best success, an offensive coordinator who has a history of reviving quarterbacks. Their starting quarterback Joe Flacco is out with a back issue that could linger for weeks. Currently the Ravens are relying on Ryan Mallett a longtime backup with a 3-5 career record and more interceptions than touchdowns to lead their team. Kaepernick is the best quarterback available and is the perfect insurance plan for the Ravens.
But if the Ravens with the perfect structure dont take a chance on Kaepernick, who will? Is the player who four years ago took the San Francisco 49ers to within seven yards of winning Super Bowl XLVII on the verge of being done simply because he took a knee?
It is clear that many of the leagues owners and coaches are afraid to sign him. They are terrified of his advocacy. They fear the anger of fans and advertisers who dislike that he refused to stand for the national anthem last year in protest against racial oppression in the US. They didnt listen last fall, when he said he wanted to start a conversation about race in America. They didnt listen this spring, when he announced he will stand for the anthem this season. All they see is that small but loud percentage of the country who say they will hate their team for signing him.
And so Kaepernick waits.
Since Kaepernick became a free agent this past winter there have been countless explanations given for why he remains unemployed. They range from poor performance on the field, to not showing enough enthusiasm for the game, to even Michael Vicks ridiculous suggestion that Kaepernick cut his hair. As players like Mallett stand on the brink of inheriting starting roles in the NFL, people seem to manufacture reasons for keeping him out.
Poor performance? Last year, on a dreadful 49ers team, he completed nearly 60% of his passes and had 16 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Add, too, his 468 yards rushing and two more touchdowns, and its impossible to suggest with a straight face that he cant play in the NFL.
Listen to John Harbaugh, the Ravens coach, who stood at a press conference last week and all but argued for his team to sign Kaepernick.
Whatever goes, football-wise, as far as the relationship is there, well try to do whats best for our players, coaches, fans and football team in every decision we make and be our best, Harbaugh said. You make decisions based on whats best for everyone involved, as best you can, with whats the right thing to do.
And what would be right for Baltimore? Ryan Mallet, with more career interceptions than games started, or Kaepernick, and his 12,271 yards passing and his 2,300 rushing not to mention a 4-2 record in the postseason?
Its about: Can you help us win games, Ravens tackle Benjamin Watson said last week. Thats whats respected in our locker room.
On a team like Baltimore, Kaepernick has a much better chance of winning games than the pile of has-beens and never-weres that loom as potential replacements for Mallett. Still, the thought of adding a healthy quarterback with a career like Kaepernicks has sent shivers through the organization. In the past, the Ravens have stood by Ray Lewis when he stood trial for murder, retained pass-rusher Terrell Suggs despite allegations of domestic violence, and even supported Ray Rice after he punched his wife in an elevator. They did this, ostensibly, in the name of winning. With Kaepernick, however, they have gone squishy, crowdsourcing opinion on him in meetings with their fans.
The other day, word leaked through an ESPN report that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was keeping general manager Ozzie Newsome from signing him. Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end as a player who has helped build two Super Bowl winners in Baltimore and is not a man known for public display, took the unusual step of firing out a statement that said the team has not made a decision on Kaepernick. Whoever made those claims is wrong! Newsome declared, keeping alive the idea Baltimore might yet sign the quarterback who might best help them get past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.
But we shouldnt hold our breath. The rest of the NFL holding back on Kaepernick has little to do with football. Its a sad statement for a league where the standard is supposed to be about winning, and winning only.