USA TODAY Sports’ NFL power rankings following Week 12 of the season, with Houston continuing to dominate and Denver making a surprising playoff push.
USA TODAY Sports
Every time an NFL quarterback suffers a serious injury, or throws four interceptions or even gets fired, the inevitable question issues forth from a reader, a colleague, a player … even from my tiny brain: Does this mean Colin Kaepernick is going to get a fresh chance?
And there won’t be one. Ain’t happening — not right now anyway.
Usually when someone wonders if the latest turn of the quarterback carousel means an opportunity for Kaepernick to hop back on, I almost reflexively dismiss the notion — he’s not a scheme fit … or he wouldn’t align with the organizational culture … or the city wouldn’t accept him … or the salary cap for X team is too tight.
And, of course, Kaepernick’s market is almost surely diminished as his collusion case against the league meanders through the courts.
That doesn’t mean he’s given up on his career.
Kaepernick remains in great shape, trains daily and “has always been ready to play if he gets the call,” a person with knowledge of his efforts to return to the NFL told USA TODAY Sports’ A.J. Perez on Tuesday. The person requested anonymity because of pending litigation tied to the collusion case.
The person added that Kaepernick “is in peak physical condition” and “remains a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback” who is prepared to adapt to a new offensive system.
Admittedly, it feels like the 31-year-old passer — hardly over the hill by the position’s standards — hasn’t played in forever. In reality, prior to this season, he’d seen regular-season action more recently than Ryan Tannehill. Mark Sanchez — the same guy with 86 career TD passes and 110 turnovers — last played when Kaepernick did (Week 17 of the 2016 season) but keeps getting gigs, including his newest one in Washington, despite starting the 2018 campaign with a four-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drug policy violation.
As I gave this situation further thought — and, to my mind, it’s rather apparent Kaepernick is one of the top 64 quarterbacks on the planet, meaning he should be a backup at minimum based on the merits of job performance — it occurred to me that we’ve reached a point where nearly every team has now effectively said “no thanks” in some figurative manner. Kaepernick hasn’t even had a workout since he left the 49ers.
Consider, since he became a free agent March 3, 2017, what all 32 NFL teams have done at the game’s most prized position:
Arizona Cardinals: Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton took turns after Carson Palmer was lost in 2017. The Cards rebooted this year by signing Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon before drafting Josh Rosen.
Atlanta Falcons: A rare team that’s really had no genuine reason to ponder Kaepernick. Matt Ryan is entrenched. Veteran Matt Schaub took a two-year deal to in 2017 to be Plan B while the likes of Garrett Grayson and rookie Kurt Benkert have rotated through.
Baltimore Ravens: They seemed legitimately interested last year when Joe Flacco was sidelined during training camp. Then they weren’t — for whatever reasons … including some proffered by Ray Lewis. Ryan Mallett, Thad Lewis and Josh Woodrum wound up taking practice snaps in Flacco’s stead. This year, the Ravens signed Robert Griffin III — not exactly a hot commodity in his own right previously, but the move has worked out well as he’s helped groom 2018 first rounder Lamar Jackson.
Buffalo Bills: Who wouldn’t opt for Nathan Peterman, AJ McCarron, Matt Barkley or Derek Anderson when nominal starters Tyrod Taylor and 2018 first rounder Josh Allen couldn’t play?
Carolina Panthers: To me, this has always felt like the ideal spot for Kap, especially after fellow former 49ers protester Eric Reid was signed this season as a new culture takes root under progressive owner David Tepper. A Kaepernick return flashed through my mind when Cam Newton was briefly knocked from Week 11’s loss at Detroit. But after Carolina rolled with backups Anderson, Joe Webb and Garrett Gilbert under since-disgraced former owner Jerry Richardson, Taylor Heinicke has held the No. 2 post this season with rookie Kyle Allen on the practice squad.
Chicago Bears: A few weeks after signing Glennon — Kap was available at the time — they took a major swing in the 2017 draft to grab Mitch Trubisky. Sanchez also drew a paycheck here last season. New coach Matt Nagy, previously Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, brought in former Chiefs Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray to teach and back up Trubisky.
Cincinnati Bengals: Pre-protest, owner Mike Brown once expressed his desire that Cincinnati had drafted Kaepernick in 2011 instead of Dalton. Now it’s pretty clear the thought of a Brown-Kap union is basically a non-starter. But, hey, at least the likes of McCarron and Barkley have suited up here. And with Dalton now on injured reserve, we give you … Jeff Driskel and Tom Savage.
Cleveland Browns: Kaepernick wasn’t good enough to crack an 0-16 roster last year. The Browns were apparently better off with a combination of DeShone Kizer, Brock Osweiler — he didn’t even make the 53-man roster — Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan. The Baker Mayfield era has also included Taylor, Stanton, Joel Stave and (my personal favorite) “Hard Knocks” star Brogan Roback.
Dallas Cowboys: One can only imagine Jerry Jones’ stance on Kaepernick. In the interim, his club lost Tony Romo to retirement before employing journeyman Kellen Moore and untested Cooper Rush behind Dak Prescott. Mike White was drafted in the spring.
Denver Broncos: Money was the obstacle preventing Kaepernick, in his pre-activism days, from replacing retired Peyton Manning via trade in the spring of 2016. Despite consistent post-Peyton problems under center, GM John Elway now cites those failed talks as a perfectly legitimate excuse to no longer consider Kap.
Detroit Lions: Among those who have cycled through as Matthew Stafford’s understudies over the past 18 months — Jake Rudock, Alek Torgersen, Brad Kaaya and Matt Cassel.
Green Bay Packers: When Aaron Rodgers’ clavicle broke last season, Joe Callahan was re-signed to sit behind Brett Hundley — for whom coach Mike McCarthy vigorously expressed his preference over Kap. This year, Hundley was traded to Seattle after losing his job to Kizer, obtained in March after that brutal rookie year in Cleveland. So, yeah.
Houston Texans: From a football standpoint, Kaepernick seemed like a logical fill-in when Deshaun Watson tore up his knee in practice a year ago. But it obviously wouldn’t have worked with late owner Bob McNair, whose club stuck with Savage and retreads T.J. Yates, Josh Johnson, Brandon Weeden and Joe Webb.
Indianapolis Colts: Imagine the blowback from Vice President (and Colts fan) Mike Pence had they signed Kaepernick during Andrew Luck’s protracted absence. Probably enough said.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Owner Shad Khan didn’t seem averse to adding Kaepernick 15 months ago … as long as football czar Tom Coughlin was in favor of it. He wasn’t. A year later, worth musing what Kap might have done for an offense that’s now been turned over to Kessler.
Kansas City Chiefs: Another instance where it’s fun to mull what Andy Reid might be able to do with Kaepernick’s abilities. However the Chiefs executed a virtually flawless transition from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes with no upward mobility beyond a secondary role for anyone else.
Los Angeles Chargers: Seems like the right kind of town for Kaepernick, but the Bolts are set with an effective, pocket-bound starter. Geno Smith, Cardale Jones and Kellen Clemens are among those who have served as Philip Rivers’ recent backups, and all probably fit coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s offense better than Kaepernick would … theoretically.
Los Angeles Rams: Like the cross-town Chargers, the Rams are evidently happy with fourth-year backup Sean Mannion behind Jared Goff.
Miami Dolphins: Head coach Adam Gase has shown the ability to maximize the talents of a variety of quarterbacks. Kaepernick hasn’t been one of them. Ex-Bears Jay Cutler and David Fales got the call in 2017 when Tannehill couldn’t play. Osweiler joined this year, displacing longtime backup Matt Moore.
Minnesota Vikings: They rode with Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Bradford in 2017 … all the way to the NFC title game. That trio hit free agency, allowing Kirk Cousins to claim the Vikes’ allotment of QB cash before the team traded for new backup Trevor Siemian.
New England Patriots: They dealt Jimmy Garoppolo for Brian Hoyer (and a second-round pick) last year. End of story. But, worth noting, this is the same team that once granted Tim Tebow an extended tryout.
New Orleans Saints: Hard to envision Kap signing up for Taysom Hill’s multi-faceted role. The Saints surrendered a third-round pick to the Jets in August in order to acquire Bridegewater, who replaced Daniel as Drew Brees’ more conventional backup.
New York Giants: They signed Geno Smith in 2017 before drafting Davis Webb. Under this year’s regime, they’re trying veteran Alex Tanney while rookie Kyle Lauletta replaced Webb as the developmental project for a team that needs to think beyond Eli Manning. Based on fan base input, owner John Mara has also expressed reluctance to bring Kap aboard.
New York Jets: Two contracts for Josh McCown, 39, though he has pretty much been the ultimate teammate despite limited upside. A final year of the Christian Hackenberg Experience. Bryce Petty. Bridgewater. Ultimately, presumed savior Sam Darnold arrived in the 2018 draft.
Oakland Raiders: Apparently Derek Carr’s contract is so burdensome that they couldn’t afford to keep Khalil Mack. Yet as locked into Carr as the Raiders seemed a year ago, isn’t everything on the table now? Jon Gruden once turned Rich Gannon into a league MVP. Why not evaluate Kaepernick just as he did since-released backups EJ Manuel and Connor Cook, along with McCarron, who now holds the clipboard?
Philadelphia Eagles: Intriguing a fit as Kaepernick might be in this offense, Philly is obviously set with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. No. 3 Nate Sudfeld, signed in September of 2017, seems to be progressing well.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Another team that can pretty much be exonerated given the presence of longtime backup Landry Jones before Joshua Dobbs (2017) and Mason Rudolph (2018) were drafted as potential successors to Ben Roethlisberger.
San Francisco 49ers: Prior to the acquisition of Garoppolo, new GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan went with Hoyer and C.J. Beathard last year rather than trying to assimilate Kaepernick. The door didn’t re-open in 2018, even after Garoppolo’s season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
Seattle Seahawks: Seemed like just about the quintessential place for Kaepernick 2.0. Would’ve made a lot of sense given his game has similarities to Russell Wilson’s, and this liberal city seemed like a natural destination. But Seattle’s front office ultimately opted not to give Kaepernick a workout after he refused to reveal whether he would continue his practice of kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice. Meanwhile, Trevone Boykin, Austin Davis and Hundley have backstopped Wilson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Few teams have a flimsier quarterback situation. But Bucs brass signed Ryan Fitzpatrick — twice — and apparently didn’t feel the need for a more compelling alternative to Ryan Griffin during Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension this season.
Tennessee Titans: Kaepernick definitely seems like a better football option behind regularly injured Marcus Mariota than, say, Cassel, Tanney or Gabbert. Nashville … maybe not such a snug fit, though.
Washington Redskins: Colt McCoy apparently has a lifetime appointment as their backup even while Cousins and Alex Smith have played ahead of him. But fairly telling when Sanchez was recalled from cold storage following Smith’s injury.
So there you have it. By my count, save for (perhaps) a half-dozen clubs, every team in the league has had a screaming need at quarterback (at most) or at least a revolving door while seeking a reliable backup over the last 21 months. Very few of them have expended a scintilla of effort to truly assess a man who once led San Francisco to a Super Bowl and, despite flaws in his game, has crafted a career passer rating of 88.9 — to say nothing of the threat he presents in the open field.
But open fields seem to be easier to find than level ones.
Contributing: A.J. Perez
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis