Colin Kaepernick Deserves a Tryout, Not a Roster Spot

Colin Kaepernick. © JASON BEAN/RGJ via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

Colin Kaepernick worked out for the Las Vegas Raiders earlier this week. Good for him. He was probably owed as much, even if it was six years too late.

But deserving a tryout doesn’t mean he deserves a roster spot on an NFL team. 

Let’s not forget, Kaepernick was must-see TV from 2012 to about 2014. His big, strong, wiry frame was [and still is] unique for an NFL quarterback. His blazing speed was unmatched; even defensive backs had a hard time catching him. Just ask the Packers. They’ll have some stories to tell. He was never a pure passer; his highest completion percentage for a full season was 60.5% in 2014 [1]

Regardless of how erratic his fastball may have been any given Sunday, he was a mesmerizing watch for those few seasons at the height of Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers glory. However, once Harbaugh was fired following an 8-8 season in 2014, the Kaepernick train started to fall off the tracks.

He suffered multiple injuries in 2015 and never regained his form, so much so that he was replaced by Blaine Gabbert (Blaine Gabbert?) midway through the campaign [2]. The following season, after undergoing three surgeries in the offseason, Kaepernick lost out to Gabbert for the starting role in Week 1 [3]. Even though he ended up starting 11 of the Niners’ 16 games, things didn’t go terribly well. His QB Rating of 90.7 was the second-highest of his career (in a full season), but San Francisco scuffled to a 2-14 record in a season that would be his last in the Bay Area [1] [4]

Apart from the actual football, we all know what happened in 2016: the police shootings, the knee, the controversy. We can debate all day whether it was football or politics that has kept Kaepernick out of the league for the last six years. But the question we need to ask about Colin Kaepernick’s status as an NFL quarterback today is if his level of play merits a coveted spot on a 2022 NFL roster.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports.

Let’s start with the numbers; I’ve already shared a couple. As mentioned, his best completion percentage for a full season was 60.5%; his career mark is 59.8%. Based on 2021 QB performance, those numbers would rank him around 30th of 33 qualified quarterbacks — right in Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold territory. He posted a career passer rating of 88.9, with his best full season in 2013 at 91.6. Such a performance would have placed him between 18th and 21st in 2021, with Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, and Ryan Tannehill for company. His career-high for passing yards in a season at 3,369 would have been 20th-best last season, right behind Taylor Heinicke [1] [5]. Nothing about this paragraph was very impressive. 

What about wins, the stat that seems to define quarterbacks more than any other? He has a 28-30 career record, right around .500. (Kirk Cousins is a career .500 quarterback. Feel free to argue about that in a different forum.) However, in his last two injury- and controversy-filled seasons, Kaepernick went a combined 3-16 [1]

It wouldn’t be fair to summarize Kaepernick’s career without highlighting 2012 and 2013. In 2012, he went 5-2 in relief of Alex Smith, held a passer rating of 98.3, led the league in Adjusted Yards per Attempt (AY/A; a stat that takes into account touchdowns and interceptions to add weight to yardage per pass attempt), and brought the Niners to the Super Bowl. In 2013, he had the highest passer rating season of his career while leading the Niners back to the Conference Championship Game. For those two seasons, he was nothing short of fantastic. 

Colin Kaepernick
Free agent QB Colin Kaepernick. IMG_2017_08_24_COLIN_KAE_1_1_MIJDETDB.JPG

The other factor that needs to be considered when contemplating a 2022 Kaepernick revival is the objective fact that he has not played NFL football in six years. He hasn’t thrown a pass, read a defense, or taken a hit in an NFL game in six years. That’s a long time.

As Stephen A. Smith pointed out earlier this week, sitting out for that long puts any player, regardless of previous playing ability, at a significant disadvantage compared to the rest of the league [6]. Ask mothers who take years away from their careers to parent their young children: getting back into the workforce is hard. His body still looks great; I’m sure he could still take a hit and outrun many defenders. But he’s 34 going on 35, and with a style of play that relies on speed and athleticism, his age is not insignificant. 

Colin Kaepernick had a brilliant run, one that will be remembered in NFL history, especially considering what followed. His play on the field definitely merits a tryout, a chance to show what he is still capable of; good on the Raiders for giving him that chance. But he was average at best in QB metrics vital in today’s NFL.

Kaepernick was descending, rather than ascending, in the last couple of years of his tenure in San Francisco. And he’s been away for too long, and he’s not getting any younger. So no, 2022 Colin Kaepernick doesn’t deserve an NFL roster spot, Las Vegas or elsewhere. Sorry if you were excited by this rumor. If we had this conversation six years ago, it would look a lot different. But that was then, and this is now.