Colin Kaepernick has had trouble getting a job in the NFL. Up until this week, the media and his supporters claimed this was due to racism. Now it’s due to collusion. But is it? We’ll let the numbers tell the story.
Let’s start with the basics:
What Makes A Quarterback?
A quarterback is more than their ratings. A quarterback is the on-field commander, the leader who improves the entire team. In short, a quarterback should improve the team by more than just his own numbers.
But, in addition, the quarterback:
- Is the face of the team for the fans, more about the team than about himself.
- As a team leader, supports and interprets the coach and management
In short, the quarterback is the most important player on the field, because the quarterback is the team to the fans and represents the players writ at large.
Regardless of his passing and rushing, Kaepernick clearly divided the nation. In fact, months after he was no longer playing, Kaepernick got significant credit for the Ravens and Jaguars kneeing for the U.S. Anthem in London, and then (and yes, if you’re not on the extreme left, this is a kicker…) standing for the British anthem!
That wasn’t him; he wasn’t even on that continent. But that is his legacy. Not as a 49ers quarterback, but as the guy that made it fashionable for millionaire Americans to dis America’s anthem but stand for England’s.
Polls also suggest that fans have a hard time sympathizing with millionaires claiming to be victims of the U.S. Kaepernick He made $10.4M in 2015 alone.
As CBS Sports reported, before his protests became major news, Kaepernick had been wearing socks vilifying law enforcement… specifically depicting them as pigs. And it did insult Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations , which represents 240,000 active law enforcement officers in a coalition of police unions and associations from across the country.
Kaep even stated his intent, ostensibly about “rogue cops”, although you’d be hard-pressed to see that in the sock images.
Kaepernick did wear interesting socks all along during practice. These weren’t worn during a televised game. If not for the rest of Kaepernick’s context, it would be reasonable to believe that these were just a poor choice from among many choices.
But they certainly are not a point in favor of Kaepernick as The Face to The Fans.
Kaepernick also alienated Cuban-American fans for wearing a shirt with Fidel Castro on it. Upset fans pointed out that Castro (and Cuba) are far worse for human rights than the U.S. police are. As George Diaz stated,
There is no question that racial inequality needs to be a topic of conversation in the United States. But that gets us back to Cuba, where such conversations can get you in prison.
Again, not the best unifying team face.
As the face of the team, the last thing the quarterback should do is alienate fans. But Kaepernick has done that. According to the Bleacher Report, 20% of football executives considered him a terrible player, but another 20% considered him an alienating risk they couldn’t afford.
Of course the Bleacher Report calls it “The crime of speaking his mind”… so let’s cover that…
The Right To Free Speech
The running narrative on his protests is that he has the Constituional Right to protest. Well, not quite.
This is covered in depth in our article, First Amendment Protections. Kaepernick has the right to go into a public square and say whatever he wants, without Federal interference. He also has the right to publish whatever he wants on paper (that he pays for), also without interference.
But that’s not what he did or is trying to do. You cannot force someone else to pay for your speech. You cannot force them to provide you a place to speak. You cannot force them to hire you after you say something offensive.
For example, if you worked as a clerk at a grocery store, you could be fired for:
- Being offensive
- Advertising, even if on your own time, for a competitor
- Being politically incorrect (creating a hostile work environment)
- Wearing a shirt the boss doesn’t like.
While you are free to speak, you aren’t free to do it everywhere, nor without consequence.
(For what it’s worth, the National Anthem wasn’t televised before games until relatively recently. And the Player’s Handbook does require players stand for it. These seem like peripheral issues given Kaepernick’s performance, below.)
Bottom Line: Kaepernick was not a good “face” for the average or the non-political fan.
It would be hard to find a worse team leader than Kaepernick.
When San Francisco replaced coach Jim Tomsula with Chip Kelly in January of 2016, Kaepernick didn’t even wait a month before announcing that he wanted to be traded. (February 2016.) This could only be considered a vote of no-confidence in the new Head Coach.
Suppose, after a company re-org, you got a new boss. And loudly proclaimed you wanted a transfer. Just how would your new boss respond? Would your co-workers feel you believed in the current “regime?” That’s not being a good team member, or lead.
And then, in October 2016 he negotiated an exit clause (another sign of disloyalty), and a scant two months later he exercised it, quitting his player-option in the deal.
And, let’s not forget that in 2015 and 2016, Kaepernick managed only 2-6 and 1-10. Blaine Gabbert did better, at 3-5 and 1-4.
For the stats-minded, that’s:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but for the last two years, even Gabbert did twice as well as Kaepernick in leading the 49ers.
Bottom Line: Kaepernick may be about as poor a team leader as is possible to find.
This is the elephant in the room. To hear his friends and some (but not all) of the media describe him, Kaepernick was incredibly good. We do have those inconvenient win/loss numbers above, but oddly those don’t seem to matter to Kaepernick’s fans. So how good is he really?
Initially, in 2012, Kaepernick was very good. Unfortunately, he was very good as a running Q.B., not as a pocket-passer. Running-Q.B.s have a short life span. Their style is adjusted to, and they take hits which quickly degrades their bodies. Pocket passers don’t have those problems.
(Incidentally, three years ago Joe Montana told USA Today that Colin Kaepernick needed to improve as a pocket passer. Kaepernick disagreed. That probably tells you all you need to know.)
His passing record is 59.8, but 2012 was his best year, behind the 2nd best scoring defense and 3rd best total defense team that year.
His completion percentage was only around 40% when throwing in the pocket, way below standard. He only passed for 187 yards/game last season, with mediocre completion, on easy passes… reportedly relatively simple routes and short throws compared to the norm.
In his last season with S.F. they went 2-14. You may not be able to blame him entirely, but clearly he can’t elevate a team.
For 2016, he threw for a mere 187 yards a game last season; Football Outsiders rated him at 30 of 32 quarterbacks. He was dreadful by most measures, although #4 for rushing. He was 29 for DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement and 30 for DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Really, being in the bottom three for these measurements is not good. And ESPN has him as dead-last in Passing, #30 of 30, with him overall at 49.2, or #23 of 30. He was #28 of 30 for EPA (Expected Points Added.) But let’s focus on what you think a quarterback does… that dead-last pass number… which is described as expected points added on plays with pass attempts… not only was he dead last but he was the only playerwith a negative number. The average, excluding Colin Kaepernick, was 48.5, while Colin Kaepernick managed a -0.3. No kidding.
For his career, he has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes. Last season, 24 passers completed more than 60 percent. Kaepernick, at 59.2 percent, was ranked 26th. If you’re below 60 percent, you’re a fringe guy.
He was even worse the year before. In 2015, he was 35 of 37 in DYAR and 34 of 37 for DVOA, but only #15 on rushing.
Let that sink in. Kaepernick was in the bottom three, in the bottom 10%, meaning 90% of NFL quarterbacks were better, for the last two years in comparative terms, using two admittedly synthetic, but best-of-breed, statistical analysis.
And for a fun stat: Last December (2016) against the Bears, Kaepernick became the first QB in league history to be sacked five times and throw for fewer than five yards in a game.
What About Team Quality
It’s certainly the case that the 49ers were going through significant challenges during this period. San Franscisco did poorly in 2014, ending 8-8. In 2015, SF went 5-11, but yet they found a way to do even worse in 2016 and landed at 2-14.
Kaepernick wasn’t all that great either. But the 2015 meltdown may have been due to new coach Jim Tomsula; it was in week 8 that Kaepernick fell apart and Blain Gabbert replaced him as starting Q.B. But then Kaepernick fell out of the rest of the season with an injured shoulder.
Note: Injuries cost money and wins.
San Francisco replaced coach Jim Tomsula with Chip Kelly, hired on 14 Jan 2016. Kaepernick announced he wanted to be traded in February 2016, which could only be considered a vote of no-confidendence in the new Head Coach. Um… what would you expect to come of that?
The 2016 QBs were Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder.
A quarterback is supposed to be a leader, rallying the team to victory above and beyond his own performance. From 2014 through 2016, Kaepernick managed to go 8-8, 2-6 and 1-10. A potted plant could accomplish this. Although, in fairness, Blaine Gabbert couldn’t; for 2015 and 2016, he managed 3-5 and 1-4. Technically better numbers than Kaepernick, but not by much.
Some talking points:
- Kaepernick lost the 49ers Starting Q.B. role and became backup Q.B. before he started his anthem protests
- He quit his contract to become a free agent; he wasn’t fired and didn’t stay to the end of his contract.
He opted out of his contract with San Francisco; he wasn’t fired but rather quit to become a “free agent”. That matters; in December of 2016 he quit a contract that he signed in June 4 2014, a six-year contract extension with the 49ers, worth up to $126 million, including $54 million in potential guarantees, and $13 million fully guaranteed. So he could have been set through 2020, but threw it away. Instead, on October 13, 2016, he and SF “restructured” his contract into a two-year deal with player option, which he then turned down.
(Interestingly, in late 2017, SF 49ers GM John Lynch stated that the team was planning on releasing him regardless of the decision Kap made. )
Kaepernick was in discussion with the Ravens for a job, that may have been lost due to a tweet from his girlfriend. Reportedly, Nessa Diab compared Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, to a slave master and Ray Lewis an Uncle Tom on twitter. Even if not fully true, the optics of this would reduce his appeal to management.
In early December last year, a columnist warned about him opting out of his contract because he “set an NFL record for quarterbacking futility”. “In a 26-6 loss to the Bears, Kaepernick became the first QB in league history to be sacked five times and throw for fewer than five yards in a game. In addition, Kaepernick and Gabbert combined for negative-six net passing yards, including yardage lost on sacks, for the 49ers’ lowest mark in that category since 1963”
What About Other “Great” Quarterbacks?
On 13-June-2017, Sports Cheat Sheet published a list of 25 Big-Name NFL Players Who Are Still Unemployed. Of these 25, four were quarterbacks. Of course, Kaepernick. But also…
- Jay Cutler, who had been with the Bears
- Robert Griffin III, who has only briefly, and years ago, started with the Browns
- Johnny Manziel, also of the Browns.
There are plenty of good reasons for each person on this list to be working… and plenty of good reasons why they aren’t. Manziel alone could make for a novel of career self-destruction. But the point is, this was four quarterbacks listed as among the top 25 out-of-work players, and… only Jay Cutler has found work for this season, and that’s just a one-year contract with the Dolphins.
What Makes Racism or Collusion?
To be racism, the decision not to hire must have been based solely on race.
To win the collusion charges, Kaepernick will have to prove explicit intent to screen him out.
Importantly, teams can choose, legally, to not sign Kaepernick because of his outspoken politics. That is perfectly legal. There are no “First Amendment” protections to the workplace; the First Amendment applies to the Federal government only.
Collusion: What’s It Take To Win?
Keep in mind that Kaepernick filed a collusion complaint with the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA).
Normally (outside of the NFL), collusion is based on Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. But the NFL is under a collection agreement (the union contract), which specifies it differently: Under the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, “collusion” is defined as a club entering into any agreement, express or implied, with any other club or the league to not sign any particular player.
He will need to prove, in writing, that he was deselected by agreement; that he was such a superstar that collusion is the only explanation.
And this is before an arbitrator, not a judge in court, so he doesn’t have as much right to evidence. Section 17 declares that the NFL and the NFLPA (the union) will agree upon an independent “system arbitrator”. But it is not a court of law. Federal rules of evidence, but not of pretrial discovery, apply. No subpeonas, no warrants.
In his favor is that, while he turned down some jobs, that can’t be used to prove lack of collusion.