If Colin Kaepernick wants to return to NFL, these 10 teams make more sense than Seahawks
How did Kaepernick win over Seahawks fans--yes, Seahawks fans--5 years after his last game?
When I was writing for the SB Nation Seahawks site Field Gulls from 2011 to 2019, no player was more derided by the community than Colin Kaepernick. As much disdain as San Francisco 49ers fans had for Russell Wilson during the five year period when the two quarterbacks were starting division rivals, there was at least that much contempt for Kap in Seattle.
(For what it’s worth, since it seems Seahawks fans insist on bringing Kap back into the conversation in 2022, former Niners Nation managing editor David Fucillo once told me that the proper spelling for the nickname is “Kap”.)
This is not to say that fan opinion can’t be subject to change. Seeing Richard Sherman reborn with the 49ers or a Sean McVay disciple calling plays for the Seahawks are clear examples of how you’re only as beloved or hated as the uniform you wear. I’m just expressing stupefication at the idea that SEAHAWKS fans are criticizing the SEAHAWKS for not signing COLIN KAEPERNICK.
Of all the Will Smith slaps I’ve ever seen, this is one of them.
Donald Trump is hanging out with the Nelk Boys. Hollywood blockbuster movies are getting outdrawn by :30 second clips from 15-year-old TikTokers. Seattle is ready to roll out the red carpet for the most red-and-gold player of the early 2010s.
Okay, sure, I’m up for the challenge. I live within hiking distance of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and I’m ready for all of life’s oddities.
Let’s talk about the Seahawks, currently in need of a starting quarterback, signing a player 1,913 days removed from his last game to be their starting quarterback. I just watched the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air slap the star of CB4 in front of an Oscars audience 1/10th its former size and then moments later he was named the Best Actor of the year.
Could Kaepernick be back in the NFL in 2022? Or do we keep seeing Kaepernick-Seahawks stories because Kaepernick-Seahawks stories are more entertaining than updates on Brandon Shell and Rasheem Green? (By the way, not a peep anywhere in football about Rasheem Green? Really?)
Kap’s first career game as a professional—though he did not make an appearance in it—came against the Seattle Seahawks. It was Week 1, 2011, and the 49ers made a 33-17 statement win that set the tone for a season in which San Francisco broke out as a contender and the Seahawks repeated as 7-9. In a Week 5 blowout win over the Buccaneers, Kap made his NFL debut, going 3-of-3 for 35 yards and losing two yards on two rushing attempts. He only made one more appearance as a rookie, going 0-of-2 in a 26-0 win over the Rams.
With 49ers starter Alex Smith playing well enough to start, Kaepernick wasn’t called upon often, but obviously general manager Trent Baalke picked Kap early in the second round with the idea in mind that he’d eventually take over. Smith had one bad start against the Giants in Week 6 of the 2012 season, but then beat the Seahawks and Cards in back-to-back games.
Smith went 18-of-19 for 232 yards and three touchdowns in Arizona.
Then on November 11, 2012, Smith was diagnosed with a concussion after a hit by Jo-lonn Dunbar and Kaepernick played out the rest of a game against the St. Louis Rams. Down 14-7 when he entered in the second quarter, Kap failed to generate much offense but San Francisco’s defense kept the score tight. A fourth quarter drive saw Kap fumble the ball twice, but teammates saved him both times, and eventually Kap got the glory by running the ball in from the seven.
Rams running back Isaiah Pead fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Frank Gore scored on a 20-yard run on the next play.
The game would reach overtime and end in a 24-24 tie. Kaepernick was 11-of-17 passing for 117 yards, sacked three times, and had eight rushes for 66 yards with two fumbles.
But with Smith sidelined for just long enough, Kaepernick took advantage of his opportunity and the 49ers won four of his first five starts, including a 41-34 win over the Patriots and a 31-21 win over the Saints. The 49ers weren’t a good team at the time, they were a great team, and thanks to Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Kaepernick was well supported to be the best player he could be.
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Other than a 42-13 defeat at the hands of the Seahawks in Week 16, Kaepernick was as good as San Francisco needed him to be, completing 62-percent of his passes for 8.4 yards per attempt, throwing 10 touchdowns and rushing for 238 yards with two touchdowns over the final seven games. The 49ers earned a top seed and a bye week in the 2012 playoffs, then Kaepernick stole the postseason with a 181-yard rushing performance in a divisional round win over the Green Bay Packers.
But as a precursor to the end zone throw we’d see from Kap a year later, the 49ers fell one play shy of a Super Bowl victory.
Kaepernick would throw 11 interceptions during the 2013 regular season and postseason, and six of those came against Seattle, including two in the NFC Championship game. Four months later, the 49ers gave Kaepernick a six-year, $126 million extension that was praised more by fans of the Rams and Seahawks than out of San Francisco.
Following his payday, Kaepernick was not the same quarterback. It is well beyond my reach to claim that these two things are related, but correlation exists.
The 49ers went 17-6 over Kap’s first two seasons as the starter, but 8-8 in 2014. He threw 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and only rushed for a single score that season. Team owner Jed York made the decision to keep Baalke over Harbaugh and outside the reach of comprehension, promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to replace the most successful head coach the franchise had since George Seifert and Bill Walsh.
Roman went to the Bills and turned Tyrod Taylor into a Pro Bowl quarterback, while San Francisco promoted quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst to run the offense in 2015; it is Chryst’s only season as an offensive coordinator in the last 20 years. His previous stint as OC was with the 1-15 Chargers in 2000.
It certainly wasn’t Kaepernick’s fault that York self-destructed in 2015, but the writing was on the wall during the 2014 season that Kaepernick’s shining moments under Harbaugh and Roman may have simply been a little bit of “pistol magic”. Think of their situation being the same as Chad Pennington and the “wildcat” offense of the Miami Dolphins in 2008:
He was the right quarterback at the right place at the right time (Pennington led the NFL with 67-percent completions, finished second in MVP voting, and the Dolphins were the surprise of the league at 11-5) but in order for anything to be at the “right time” that means that the window has to close soon.
Pennington went 1-3 as a starter… over the rest of his career.
Injuries always doomed Pennington but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the wildcat offense was a flash in the pan experiment that could only hold value in a vacuum. Teams still employ wildcat formations today but it’s never an entire offense. Neither is the pistol and that’s why York’s deconstruction of the staff less than a year after giving Kaepernick $126 million(ish) was destined to result in Kap’s failure to prove he was an NFL starting quarterback.
There are 32 NFL teams, but out of 32, how many could Colin Kaepernick have actually started at quarterback for in 2013? Given that Roman is one of the most unique (and most successful) offensive coordinators in football, how many other coaches could have designed something that would fit Kap’s strengths while hiding his weaknesses?
The types of weaknesses that showed up at the end of the 2012 Super Bowl and the 2013 NFC Championship, and literally every single time he faced the Seahawks?
People will point to the 2012-2014 Seahawks as a perfect example of where a “pistol quarterback” could fit because obviously Russell Wilson was similarly running a dual threat offense at the time; Seattle had adopted the zone-read style that was working so well for Mike Shanahan and RGIII in Washington back then.
But then I remember that Wilson has one of the best arms in football, arguably the best deep ball in the game, and I recall moments like him beating the Patriots as a rookie by completing a bomb to Sidney Rice and I think… “No.”
The Seahawks offense would evolve out of the zone-read era not because Wilson got lucky and stayed healthy, but because of his other-worldly passing abilities. These are unique to Wilson and only a few other quarterbacks and it’s always been his strengths as a pocket passer that have made Wilson a true franchise player.
If Wilson was relying more on his legs than his arm, he would’ve been out of the league or serving as a backup long ago; Wilson has still only rushed for 23 touchdowns over 10 seasons. He’s an okay runner, he’s no Josh Allen, who has 31 touchdowns on the ground in four years.
Without Roman and Harbaugh in 2015, the wheels literally fell off.
After a Week 1 win over the Vikings, San Francisco would lose the next four, while Kaepernick had five interceptions (four against the Falcons) and five fumbles in that time. The 49ers went 1-3 over the next month and Tomsula made the decision to bench Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert.
The first time Kaepernick was benched as a starting QB, it was the week before they were set to face the Seahawks, the team he could never beat.
It was at that point, early November of 2015, that Colin Kaepernick stopped being an NFL starting quarterback. He was placed on IR and the 49ers finished dead last in points scored for the 2015 season.
In the following offseason, the 49ers replaced Tomsula with Chip Kelly, presumably to help guide Kaepernick into some type of dual threat offense that would work similarly to Roman’s, but this was almost an immediate backfire. Kaepernick requested permission to seek a trade, and then nothing materialized out of that despite rumors of a deal with the Broncos.
"I am not going to get into specifics," Kaepernick said regarding his decision to request a trade. "We were looking at different opportunities."
Kaepernick was his own worst critic, and who couldn’t be after losing a job to Gabbert:
"To be perfectly blunt, I was not playing my best football." Kaepernick said of last season.
Kaepernick came into the 2016 preseason with a will to be the quarterback who Kelly would need, but it was apparent to ESPN’s Nick Wagoner from day one that Gabbert was unlikely to lose the starting gig any time soon.
Blaine Gabbert already had the advantage in the San Francisco 49ers quarterback competition when it came to repetitions. You could also put a check next to Gabbert's name when it came to production. Now, with one meaningless preseason game and a couple weeks of practice before the season opener, time is also on Gabbert's side.
Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick made his preseason debut in Friday night's 21-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. In an exhibition season in which Kaepernick missed two preseason contests and nearly two weeks of practice, Kaepernick's body of work paled in comparison to Gabbert's. The prevailing outside sentiment entering Friday's game was that Kaepernick could still theoretically win the job, but he would need a big performance against the Packers to have a chance.
As you'd expect for someone playing in his first live NFL game since Nov. 8, Kaepernick couldn't muster the magic needed to get back in the mix. In just one quarter, Kaepernick was 2-of-6 for 14 yards passing with four carries for 18 yards. When Kaepernick was at the helm, the Niners managed just one first down.
On literally the same day, but apparently not yet in Wagoner’s purview, was a story by NFL.com’s Steve Wyche that Kaepernick had refused to stand for the national anthem during that preseason game against the Packers. And then everything about “Colin Kaepernick” changed.
"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he said. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."
Kaepernick wouldn’t beat out Gabbert for the Week 1 job, but the 49ers were now outright terrible and he was inserted as the starter in Week 6. San Francisco went 2-14, including 1-10 with Kaepernick, the lone win coming off of a 22-21 comeback victory against the Rams in which Kap threw a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, and ran in the winning two-point conversion all in the last five minutes.
A week later, the Seahawks beat the 49ers 25-23, with Trevone Boykin replacing Wilson in the final quarter. And that is the last time that Kaepernick played a football game.
January 1, 2017.
Five years and three months ago.
Should it now be Kaepernick’s arch nemesis that welcomes him back into the league? I’m not sure where I see the connection being made to Seattle other than the fact that we know the Seahawks are open finding more quarterbacks to compete with Drew Lock. I see where playing for the Seahawks could benefit Kaepernick, if he was actually open to signing with an NFL team and being a backup, but I am not seeing where the move a) benefits Seattle and b) is fair to the other quarterbacks on the market who are also looking for opportunities.
This is a tweet by Mike Clay from 2015, yet it seems like these names are all up for discussion with the Seahawks in 2022. Why Kaepernick instead of Geno Smith?
If Colin Kaepernick wants to reestablish himself as an NFL player, the league’s practice squad rule changes of 2020 were the perfect opportunity for him to catch on with a team again. Practice squads have given quarterbacks like Josh McCown, Josh Rosen, and Josh Johnson ample opportunities to be in the league over the last two years—but without the big contracts, the fame, or the most coveted role in American pro sports:
Johnson, cousin to Marshawn Lynch and only a few years older than Kaepernick, has only started nine games over 13 seasons in the league. This didn’t stop him from pursuing his dream and after spending 2020-2021 on the 49ers’ practice squad, playing in the Alliance of American Football and the XFL, Johnson was given chances to play for both the Jets and the Ravens in 2021.
He even did quite well. On March 18th, Johnson signed with the Denver Broncos to backup Russell Wilson.
I’m not sure why Kaepernick would skip the process that Johnson went through. I’m not sure why a team should give Kaepernick a chance to start in Week 1, almost six years since his last game, rather than him serving at least one season on a practice squad. I can’t come up with an answer why Kaepernick needs to be favored over a number of quarterbacks who remain on the free agent market today, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Mike Glennon, Nick Mullens, Gabbert, Rosen, or Geno Smith.
I can’t piece together what makes media members flock to Kap as a potential quarterback on Seattle’s 53-man roster—if not the starter, even though he hasn’t had an NFL playbook since 2016 and despite the reality that more than 80-percent of the league’s players today weren’t in the league when Kaepernick last played—rather than discussing realistic trade options like Nick Foles, John Wolford, P.J. Walker, David Blough, Kellen Mond, Gardner Minshew, Dwayne Haskins, or Mike White.
Of course the Seahawks are not going to find a fantastic quarterback on the trade and free agent markets over the remainder of 2022. That’s unrealistic. But Kaepernick doesn’t exist in a bubble where there are no other quarterbacks in the world who deserve a chance to start for an NFL team.
In this world, if Kaepernick has a desire to play football and no other motivations, nothing has held him back in recent years. There are alternative leagues. There are new rules that allow veterans to be on a practice squad. Kaepernick could have spent 2021 on a team’s practice squad, learning a playbook, throwing to NFL players on an official basis, and hoping for the same unbelievable opportunities that eventually came to Johnson, Minshew, and White.
Why are we talking about Kaepernick as an NFL starter before we’re talking about the work it would take for him to be integrated, comfortable, and familiar with an NFL team and an NFL offense? Isn’t it disrespectful to the work put in by every quarterback to say that the transition back to the league, after a five-year break, is as simple as throwing some bombs to Tyler Lockett on an empty field?
It’s the same work that Kaepernick himself put in from Nevada to San Francisco as a second round pick in 2011. Wouldn’t Kaepernick want to be sure he wasn’t taking away an opportunity for the next “Kaepernick”—whether that be Jordan Love, Jalen Hurts, Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond, Davis Mills, Matt Corral, Sam Howell, Bailey Zappe, and so on…—if and when he signs with an NFL team?
If Colin Kaepernick wants a chance to return to the NFL, the Seahawks would be a poor landing spot because Seattle is looking for players to compete to start. Right now, that list of candidates only goes as far as Drew Lock and Jacob Eason, but Pete Carroll mentioned on Tuesday that the team is hopeful to get back Geno Smith and to give him a real chance to start.
To add Kaepernick to the mix in Seattle is to add in a quarterback who complicates a very serious competition. The Seahawks need to be realistic about who can start for the offense in Week 1 of the 2022 season and that answer is never going to be Colin Kaepernick—Shane Waldron’s offense is not just “pick it up and go”—so why should Carroll welcome the opportunity to give Seattle fans a reason to root for that outcome?
Kaepernick’s only realistic destinations, if he’s serious about the NFL, would be to take the same opportunities that were once snatched up by quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Mitchell Trubisky, and Joe Flacco… “Well, I guess it’s time to suck it up and be a backup.”
As we’ve seen, those opportunities can also result in becoming an NFL starter again. Why does Kaepernick get special privileges over his peers?
Instead, Kaepernick must go to a team that has an established veteran starter AND an established backup who won’t be moved from the QB2 role. That’s not going to happen in Seattle. Therefore, there are at least 10 other NFL teams that would make a whole lot more sense for Kaepernick than the Seahawks. Carroll said that Kaepernick called him to talk about playing football again.
If Kaepernick wants to play in the NFL though, he should call these teams instead:
Miami Dolphins: Go learn from Mike McDaniel. Spend a year on the practice squad behind Tua Tagovailoa and Bridgewater. Compete with Chris Streveler to be third-string.
New England Patriots: The ultimate reformation and reclamation destination!
Baltimore Ravens: Greg Roman is the OC, Lamar Jackson is the starter, Tyler Huntley is the backup, and Kaepernick could always run the scout team.
Cleveland Browns: Why not curry favor by having Kaepernick as the third QB in the room with Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett?
Jacksonville Jaguars: Doug Pederson has helped remake many quarterbacks and Jacksonville is place where anyone can go be anonymous while they learn football again.
Denver Broncos: Finally, the connection could be made!
Kansas City Chiefs: Not a team that will ever need to call on Kaepernick to start, but he could buddy up with and learn from the quarterback who replaced the quarterback who Kap once replaced.
Las Vegas Raiders: Josh McDaniels knows how to work with quarterbacks who have marquee names but not Hall of Fame resumes.
Washington Commanders: Ron Rivera may be the perfect ambassador to slowly welcome Kaepernick back into the league and playing football again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: With Tom Brady set to start again, Kyle Trask developing behind him, and potentially Gabbert as a re-signing candidate, Kaepernick could be a part of a special QB room and use a full year to learn from Brady and Bruce Arians.
What’s next for Colin Kaepernick? That’s not for me to guess with any confidence. But if he really wants to play football, I don’t doubt a team would sign him with the intention to make the practice squad. If Tim Tebow can briefly return with the Jaguars as a tight end, I’m sure that Kaepernick won’t serve as too big of a distraction for a team amid the crazy reality that is 2022. But it has to be a team that does not need a starting quarterback.
It will be seven years since Colin Kaepernick was last a starting quarterback in training camp. If he wants to end that streak, he needs to first win a job as a backup. The Seahawks aren’t looking for a backup.
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