The smoke from the quarterback fires that began in free agency and continued through the draft is starting to clear.
We had three teams trade up for quarterbacks in the 2017 first round, Cleveland picked up Deshone Kizer in the second, and the Giants, Steelers, 49ers and Bills used mid-round picks on the position. Before that, the Tony Romo retirement news altered the landscape (likely leading Houston to then trade up for DeShaun Watson).
We are now over a month removed from the 24-hour news cycle buzz of Colin Kaepernick being blackballed, based on a Spike Lee social media post. Kaepernick, along with Jay Cutler, represents the top of the free agent pecking order right now at the position. Cutler, though has been busy baring his personality this offseason, and at age 34, his simply moving on to something else is very much in play.
After those two, you are looking at 34-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was awful last year with the Jets, and Robert Griffin III, who seems like more of a reclamation project than Kaepernick to recapture past glory at this point. Then, it’s a bunch of never-weres and journeymen for teams wanting to round out the quarterback depth.
So let’s try to assess the opportunities for Colin Kaepernick. There are no starting spots. No one is signing him expecting him to be the week 1 starter, so unless he wants to wait for an injury, here are his options:
New York Jets: They don’t seem to be concerned about their complete lack of a quarterback, and seem willing to go with veteran Josh McCown, or Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Yes, they restructured the Chad Henne deal and Henne has been the backup to Blake Bortles in recent years. That deal is not prohibitive in terms of moving to Kaepernick.
Baltimore Ravens: Ryan Mallett is Joe Flacco’s backup. John Harbaugh has publicly said Kaepernick’s stances wouldn’t be an issue, and his brother coached him and drafted him.
Arizona Cardinals: He would compete for snaps behind Carson Palmer with veteran Drew Stanton.
Denver Broncos: John Elway sends letters to Donald Trump on Denver letterhead, and the team drafted Paxton Lynch last year, and Trevor Siemian is also young (and they added Chad Kelly as Mr. Irrelevant). The QB situation is unsettled but they don’t be setting up to make a move.
Of those, Jacksonville makes the most sense for both Kaepernick and for the team. Here’s why:
Kaepernick isn’t starting right away anywhere, he needs to go somewhere where he could potentially play, and get a chance to show himself, if things break.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, has Blake Bortles entering a key fourth season. He was at times brutal last year, especially early in games. Bortles averaged 5.7 yards per attempt in the first quarter of games last year, and Jacksonville had only 51 first quarter points.
Jacksonville just exercised the fifth-year option, which is guaranteed for injury only for Bortles until the start of next year’s league calendar. We’ve seen teams exercise that option, then sit their quarterbacks for fear of having to pay someone they no longer trusted. (See for example Robert Griffin III in his last year in Washington.) In fact, Kaepernick had to renegotiate his injury-only guarantees and restructure to get back on the field last year.
Bortles put up decent raw numbers a couple of years ago, while leading the league in interceptions, but his rate stats have been below average for three straight years, and his yards per attempt were pretty poor a year ago for a third-year starter who should be closer to breaking out. Using adjusted net yards per attempt compared to league average, the most similar quarterbacks over the first three seasons of a career are: (1) Steve DeBerg, (2) Mark Sanchez, (3) Rick Mirer, (4) Tony Banks, and (5) Jeff George. That’s not a group that screams “put all your eggs in that basket.”
If Bortles struggles, and the organization realizes they can’t pay him upwards of $18 million the next year, then they are going to need to sit him down and not risk that injury only guarantee coming due with a November knee injury.
The rest of the Jacksonville roster seems like it has been building and getting better. There is talent in Jacksonville, but the results certainly haven’t been there. Kaepernick would provide a reasonable fallback alternative if Bortles gets off to another bad start in year 4. Good organizations don’t accept mediocrity, and if Bortles can’t handle it, I’m not sure he’s a franchise quarterback to begin with. This seems like the ideal situation to bring in competition and try to push Bortles, and for Kaepernick to get an opportunity if he doesn’t respond.