Colin Kaepernick is a better football player than Austin Davis. That’s not really a debatable assessment. Say what you will about Kaepernick’s ability to be a star, or even a reliable starter, in the NFL, but he has five seasons’ worth of starting experience under his belt, plus a Super Bowl appearance and more than 12,000 career passing yards.
Davis was released by the Rams in 2015 and by the Browns in ’16, he spent last season buried on the Broncos’ depth chart behind Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, and the “Game Logs” tab onhis NFL.com profile redirects to an error page.
And if none of that convinces you, here’s what Seattle coach Pete Carroll had to say,via The News Tribune, after signing Davis over Kaepernick: “[Kaepernick’s] a starter. And we have a starter. ... But he’s a starter in this league, and I can’t imagine somebody won’t give him a chance to play.”
Carroll’s remarks are similar to those of Baltimore coach John Harbaugh from March’s league meetings. “He’s too good a player,” Harbaugh said,according to the Washington Times. “I mean, he’s got to prove himself as a player. Colin knows that, he’d be the first to tell you that. You know, when you’re the quarterback and you don’t win, you’re going to have to answer for that. But he’ll get a chance again. Someone’s going to sign him and he’ll play in this league probably for a long time.”
So there is a disconnect, somewhere, between what coaches like Carroll and Harbaugh are saying and what’s going on with Kaepernick this off-season.
The explanation from Carroll doesn’t make much sense, if taken at face value. This is the time of year when coaches, GMs and players alike harp on the importance of having competition up and down the roster. Seattle wouldn’t turn down talent just on the off chance that bringing in Kaepernick would put unwanted pressure on Russell Wilson.
If Kaepernick is talented enough to be considered potential starter-caliber by a pair of the game’s more respected coaches, then why is he still sitting there on the market? The various answers to that question have provided quite the litmus test over the past few months on the topic of how much one believes politics plays into the minds of NFL front offices.
The available explanations for why Kaepernick remains unsigned include the following:
• Kaepernick’s national-anthem protest made him more of a political target than teams are comfortable with. Harbaugh said he "would never use a generic, stupid term" like "blackballed" to describe the situation. Giants owner John Mara, on the other hand, recentlytold The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas, “All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue. If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game. It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, moreso than any other issue I’ve run into.”
• Kaepernick is asking for too much money. This is the other possible reading of Carroll’s Monday comments. "He’s a starter. And we have a starter" could imply as much about what Kaepernick may be asking, contract-wise, as it does about any desire from the Seahawks to have too much talent—if that’s a thing—at the No. 2 QB spot. Davis’s deal with Seattle is for just one year at the veteran-minimum salary. (On this point, Kaepernick retweeted Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman on Monday when the reporter wrote that excessive salary demands were not the reason Kaepernick remains unsigned.)
• Teams (at least some of them) legitimately view Kaepernick as inferior to their in-house options. Although Kaepernick played a far more passable brand of ball last season than many give him credit for, much has been made about the scheme challenges he potentially brings and his drop-off in recent years.
A combination of all three likely is at play, although at this point there is little doubt the buck stops for some teams—not all—at Kaepernick’s decision to kneel for the national anthem. Too much time and too many teams have passed to pretend this is all a football-related situation, as the Seahawks’ signing of Davis hammered home.
Kaepernick is the most talented quarterback (and perhaps the most talented player, period) left available in free agency. He’s leaps and bounds ahead of Davis, except for the fact that Davis—like the string of below-average NFL quarterbacks signed before Kaepernick this off-season—won’t bring a media frenzy with him when he arrives.