Long before his protest of our National Anthem, Colin Kaepernick should have been released by the San Francisco 49ers. The former starting quarterback and budding superstar had been relegated to Blaine Gabbert’s back-up and has suffered nagging injuries that have derailed his once-promising NFL career. To the Niners credit, they did attempt to trade Kaepernick and it appeared for a while that he was bound for Denver to take over the retired Peyton Manning’s duties for the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos. But they should have bit the bullet even earlier to avoid the guaranteed $11.9 million base salary for the 2016 season, which kicked in once he remained on the roster on April 1.
As a mater of fact, Kaepernick announced that he was demanding a trade during the offseason, even after Chip Kelly was hired as their new head coach. Pundits declared that Kaepernick would be a perfect fit for Kelly’s style only to scratch their heads when Kaepernick went public with his demands. At this point, it would have been totally understood if the Niners released him, especially considering that his health status wasn’t certain.
Kaepernick missed the majority of the team’s offseason training program due to his injuries and that set him back for any hope in winning the job from Gabbert, who took over for the benched Kaepernick in November of last season. The former first round draft pick (2011, 10th overall) of the Jacksonville Jaguars finished the year with 2,031 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, 7 interceptions for a 71.9 passer rating. Not exactly sparkling numbers, but Gabbert had the confidence of the locker room heading into training camp this summer.
Signed to a team-friendly two-year, $2 million contract in March of 2015, Gabbert is averaging 1/19th of what Kaepernick of earning. Back in June of 2014, the 49ers signed the Nevada product to a six-year, $114 million extension after he led them to the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship Game in consecutive seasons.
Kelly has already announced that Gabbert will not play in the fourth and final preseason game and that Kaepernick will start. Although he has not made an official announcement, that is a clear indication that Gabbert has won the job. As a matter of fact, the team can save $1.125 million if they cut Kaepernick before Saturday’s deadline of the 53-man roster.
Unless Gabbert is ineffective or gets injured, Kaepernick will remain the back-up and be a weekly distraction. The 49ers also have Christian Ponder on the roster, who was selected two spots behind Gabbert in the same draft. This is a rebuilding team with a new coaching staff so the expectations are not high. Having a lightning rod like Kaepernick around draining the salary cap at the same time is a recipe for disaster. They can cut their losses now and not have to worry about the guaranteed money that kicks in every April 1 throughout the term of the contract.
The organization will no doubt be scrutinized if they do release Kaepernick and they will be accused of racism, etc. Coupled with Kelly’s rocky tenure in Philadelphia filled with accusations of racism (see Riley Cooper, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson), it would be all too easy for a contingent of not only the league, but society itself to point the finger.
But they have a built in excuse (salary, injury prone, etc.) to deflect the criticism. Even if Kaepernick was still the starter, his disrespectful actions and subsequent doubling down on them are deserving of being shown the door. But in this PC-conscious world, the 49ers would probably prefer to eat Kaepernick’s $19 million average annual salary and have him trample all over true American values rather than be accused of racism or perhaps even Islamaphobia.
Yes, that’s right. Religion has been brought into this already-ugly situation. Kaepernick – who at one time was (and still may be) a devout and pious Christian who was proud of his many Biblical tattoos – may have converted to Islam. His fiancee is Islamic and he has made some social media posts that suggest he, too, may be converting.
And last but not least, Kaepernick’s statements about his protest have been anti-police and not anti-military. (He doesn’t get to choose which group he offends with his actions.) This has been a contentious subject in our country and even in the NFL, with the league not allowing the Cowboys to wear a helmet decal honoring the five slain Dallas police officers at the hands of a sniper during a Black Lives Matter protest.
There has been a lot of blowback against Kaepernick for this and he may have bit off more than he can chew. Especially since his skills on the football field have diminished. He doesn’t have much leverage and may find himself on the outside looking in for a long time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I had the opportunity to sit down and do a one-on-one interview with Colin Kaepernick in April of 2013, a few months after he came within one pass of leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl win. He was a humble and respectful young man and I immediately became a fan of his only a scant few minutes into our meeting. He impressed me as a person, as well as an athlete and potential perennial Pro Bowler. I felt that he had a Wheaties box cover in his immediate future. So it is disappointing to say the least that he has chosen to stain his reputation and career by doing this.