Trump Smiles at Rising Unemployment Among Free-Agent Quarterbacks

by Jim Geraghty

President Trump, at a rally in Kentucky yesterday: “It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick [free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick] up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump… Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”

From the Bleacher Report article by Mike Freeman:

“He can still play at a high level,” one AFC general manager said. “The problem is three things are happening with him.

“First, some teams genuinely believe that he can’t play. They think he’s shot. I’d put that number around 20 percent.

“Second, some teams fear the backlash from fans after getting him. They think there might be protests or [President Donald] Trump will tweet about the team. I’d say that number is around 10 percent. Then there’s another 10 percent that has a mix of those feelings.

“Third, the rest genuinely hate him and can’t stand what he did [kneeling for the national anthem]. They want nothing to do with him. They won’t move on. They think showing no interest is a form of punishment. I think some teams also want to use Kaepernick as a cautionary tale to stop other players in the future from doing what he did.”

No doubt, if you’re the general manager of an NFL team and you sign Kaepernick, you run the risk of Trump tweeting about you. But there are other factors at work here.

Kaepernick began 2016 competing with Blaine Gabbert for the starting job as quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, and then-coach Mike Chip Kelly named Gabbert the starter to begin the season. Gabbert played pretty badly in the first five weeks, and Kaepernick won his starting job back, but… the results were still pretty ugly.

The 49ers were terrible last year, finishing 2-14. The team was near the bottom of the league in points scored and total yards per game and dead last in passing yards per game. Fans, analysts and coaches can argue how much of the blame falls on Kaepernick, who started 11 games and played in 12. He was sacked 36 times in that limited playing time last year. (Oof!) He had some great games, like his three-touchdown, 113-rushing yard day against Miami, and some awful ones, like his December collapse against the New York Jets, when he completed only 8 of 18 passes for 38 yards over the final three quarters and overtime. (This is reportedly one of the reasons the Jets weren’t interested in signing him, although it’s hard to picture Jets owner/longtime GOP fundraiser/U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Woody Johnson being a big Kaepernick fan.) If you’re wary about Kaepernick, there’s enough reason to worry that after 171 sacks and a level of play that has either plateaued or declined, his best years are behind him.

Now on to the quarterback’s highest-of-high-profile form of protest. Do you think Kaepernick’s sudden status as a political celebrity and the attending media attention helped the 49ers last season, hurt the 49ers, or had no difference? Even if the overwhelming media scrutiny was just a small hindrance, how many coaches and general managers want to take on that grief and aggravation? Putting together a winning season in the NFL is hard enough. Yes, Kaepernick said he won’t be kneeling during the national anthem this year. But what if there’s another high-profile case of police brutality or Kaepernick finds some other cause he’s willing to kneel for?

Right now it appears that to the NFL teams looking for a quarterback in the free agent market, Kaepernick represents too much risk for too little reward. Tomorrow that could change; the entire league is only one torn anterior cruciate ligament away from being turned upside down.

Separately… is it really the job of the President of the United States to keep controversial quarterbacks unsigned in the free agent market? Doesn’t the commander-in-chief have bigger things to worry about?

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