Colin Kaepernick escalated quickly. His thought-out decision not to stand for the National Anthem spawned a million takes over the weekend. Some were highly affirmative, others were scalding. Not much in the middle. We’ve now advanced to the “what’s next” phase about how the hourglass on his tenure with the 49ers is rapidly dwindling, not for protest, but for “football reasons.”
Let’s get this out of the way: If Kaepernick was the same guy who was terminating the Packers in playoff games, Chip Kelly and the 49ers would grittingly tolerate his protest. There is nothing NFL teams fear and fail to handle like dreaded distractions, but surely they’d make an exception for a guy who can run for 181 yards and also be a threat with his arm in a postseason game:
Kaepernick reached one Super Bowl, and the next year had a drive for another come up just short. However, since then his career has suffered one setback after another. Jim Harbaugh flamed out of the organization. Jim Tomsula is by all appearances a very nice and honorable man, but he was not equipped to be in charge of a whole football team. Kaepernick was ineffective, and then injured.
Right now, Kaepernick’s head and heart just do not appear to be in football. Whether this is directly related or merely correlated to his recent vocality in regard to social injustices, he acknowledged right away that “[i]f they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
At this point, it would not be shocking if Kaepernick is done in the NFL. He looks physically diminished, and has by all accounts been beaten out by Blaine Gabbert this preseason. This offseason, nobody wanted to trade for him and pay his salary. It’s fair to wonder if he ever takes another regular season snap. Starting quarterback in the NFL is not a job one can hold ambivalently.
While we think of him as young in quarterback terms, Kaepernick will turn 30 next season. He’s not young, and plenty of quarterbacks who showed great promise were effectively done as starters around this age: Bernie Kosar, Aaron Brooks, and Daunte Culpepper (knee injury) come to mind. Based on his recent play, remaining a starter was no given anyway. Is Kaepernick in a position where he wants to play the role of veteran backup, and would a team put up with public stands from someone waiting on the sideline?
Nevertheless, it’s not as though this is a foregone conclusion. It doesn’t look like it will happen right now, but maybe things somehow turn back around in San Francisco? Or, perhaps there’s a coach out there who would click with Kaepernick and harness his talent. With attrition that happens every year and the stunning lack of adequate backups, you can see someone rolling the dice.
However, at this moment it is very reasonable to wonder whether Colin Kaepernick’s NFL career is on the verge of being over. Just two years ago, nobody would’ve ever believed that.