OpEd: Colin Kaepernick and the Jets

I recently ran across a news article discussing the letter Colin Kaepernick sent to the New York Jets after Aaron Rodgers got hurt in Week 1 of the 2023 NFL regular season. Essentially, Colin, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016, sent a letter to the Jets management to offer his services as a member of their practice squad.

You can find the full letter posted here on Instagram 

Now, I am not and never have been a Kaepernick fan. As the QB for the 49ers, I thought his performance was average at best. When he first hit the league, his speed and power made him more of a threat than the average pocket passer. He was similar to a number of the more mobile and speedy passers entering the league around this time. This dramatic change in QB play styles and capabilities meant that it took a while for defenses to figure out how to contain the more elusive guys. Eventually, much like Vick and McNabb, defenses learned how to play against these quarterbacks and forced them to pass the ball more which led to a decline in their stat production.

And then came the infamous kneeling. Kaepernick was the first pro sports player to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest against racism, police brutality, and inequality. Now, none of those things are acceptable and should be condemned when observed at any level. My issue was never Colin’s commitment to the issues he believed in but with how he went about expressing his dissatisfaction with the status quo.

First, I think his choice to kneel during the national anthem was disrespectful to the nation that created the very opportunities that earned him millions of dollars. It just seems like biting the hand that feeds him to me. Secondly, rather than use his millions of dollars to fund a new or existing group to spend time in D.C. garnering support for bills or amendments to improve the conditions he is protesting, he went out on a national stage in the form of NFL broadcasts and staged silent protests that disrupted the environment and distracted from the game fans either paid to attend or tuned in to watch. I just think that he could have used his money and influence in a more constructive manner to yield better results but instead he opted to intentionally be controversial. I guess in his mind it was better to raise public awareness with the general public who have little real sway over political policies than to try and directly influence lawmakers who actually have the ability to affect the changes he seeks. And finally, after his contract with the 49ers came to end and he was ousted from the league, he blamed the NFL team owners for conspiring against him to keep him out of the league. He even went so far as to file a lawsuit against the NFL on those terms, which he would eventually lose.

Ultimately, his on-field performance had slipped from average to mediocre and the coaches had benched him. He was pushed out of the league because he couldn’t produce on the field where it mattered for an NFL player. Add to that his off-field antics, including his pre-game kneeling, had also created a cloud around him that divided fans. Some fans hated him simply because he kneeled during the national anthem and was seen as anti-American. For a league where teams make millions, perhaps billions, of dollars annually in merch sales and game attendance, I don’t think a team was willing to risk hurting their revenue stream for an average quarterback who was NOT popular among fans. Quarterback jerseys are among the top selling merch item for any football team but tons of people were constantly destroying their Kaepernick merch in public displays. That is not an encouraging sign to prospective teams. His performance didn’t inspire confidence that he could lead a team to the “big game” and on top of that he had little to no merch value so any team who signed him would have difficulty recouping their investment from merch sales.

It didn’t matter how often he worked out or what physical condition he was in, teams didn’t want to sign him because his last couple of seasons in the league did not yield great results and fans were not flocking to buy gear with his name on it. The owners didn’t have to conspire to keep him out of the league, he did all of that on his own by ruining his credibility with the fans with his kneeling and then ruining his credibility with the league with his on-field performances. Owners aren’t obliged to sign a wash out from another team simply because he still wants to play. The league isn’t racist because he wants to play but can’t get a team to sign him. The owners didn’t conspire against him because he professed his desire to play but no team extended him a contract. He simply didn’t represent a good value for the money and QB1 position he was demanding at the time.

Fast forward to 2023, seven years since Colin’s last appearance as a NFL player, and the Jets new starting QB, veteran Aaron Rodgers, gets injured after only 4 plays into the season. The Jets only have two QBs on their roster, newly acquired Rodgers and 3rd year QB Zach Wilson, who was drafted as a rookie by the Jets in 2021 but had a few issues on the field of his own in the previous season. With Aaron’s season ending injury, the Jets were down to only 1 QB on the roster for the rest of the season, a condition no pro football team wants to risk. This means that Jets management was about to start a desperate scramble to find a backup QB to their new starter, Zach Wilson. Sensing the obvious need of the Jets to fill that void created by Aaron’s injury, Colin quickly put a plan into motion to throw his proverbial hat into the ring for consideration.

Enter the letter now made public on Instagram that has been reported on by numerous media outlets.

Ultimately, Colin’s ploy to be signed to the Jets’ practice squad failed. Trevor Siemian, a more recent draftee into the league, was part of another team’s roster before being cut before the August deadline just before the season started. The Jets signed Trevor, not Colin.

But, Colin’s letter demonstrates his continued strong devotion to the game and his unwavering desire to return to the sport. Both are commendable traits that I can respect. The letter articulates Colin’s willingness to accept a much lower level position with the organization and his understanding of what his role would be if the Jets accepted his offer. It showed a level of maturity and an acceptance of the reality that he was in no position to demand the QB1 spot or be anything other than a supporting cast mate to Zach Wilson. To me, the letter was an excellent example of Colin’s personal growth and realization that maybe his shit really does stink like everyone else’s.

There have been some that have been quick to blame Colin’s girlfriend at the time, now his wife, for being the behind-the-scenes catalyst to his protests and cries of victimization at the hands of the NFL. Others have suggested that Colin’s game performance declined because he was distracted by his protesting and the media controversy surrounding him as a result. Some or all of it may be true, who am I to say? Regardless of the whys, Colin’s performance in 2015 and 2016 wasn’t viewed as sufficient for the 49ers to continue to allot the money he wanted from their budget. With cost caps and new rookies able to be signed at cheaper rates, the 49ers could roll the dice with a new, cheaper QB that would likely be more appealing for merch sales. He wasn’t ousted from the league because the league owners are racist. He simply did not represent a justifiable business expense and at the end of the day the NFL and its teams are a multi-billion dollar a year business who wants to employ players who will grow the respective brands, not detract from them.

Perhaps in the past seven years, Colin has realized the mistake in his old thoughts and has adopted a new mentality of being willing to do whatever it takes to earn his way back into the league, and potentially the field, rather than feeling entitled to such an opportunity. I’m still not convinced that he has what it takes to be successful in the NFL, especially being 7 years older now and without that same amount of additional league experience. Sure, he may still maintain a rigorous workout routine to keep his fitness levels up but that doesn’t automatically mean that he can be competitive in a modern game setting.

I have a new found respect for Colin Kaepernick after reading his thoughtful letter though. Prior, I was dead set against Colin’s return to the NFL I thought his presence in the league was more motivated by his desire to continue his social crusade for the cameras and an assumed need for money since he hasn’t really had a paying gig since 2016. But after reading his letter to the Jets, it demonstrates that he has a real desire to play and a real love for the game. If he gets back into the league and is successful, great for him. If not, meh.

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