It seems like yesterday Colin Kaepernick was the best thing since sliced bread. The rocket armed, inked up, bicep kissing dual threat quarterback was torching defenses left and right and was one throw away from adding "Super Bowl Champion" to his resume.
Life comes at you fast.
Fast forward five years, and 2017 is a vastly different animal than 2012. Shortly after their Super Bowl run, the 49ers organization collapsed similar to a house of cards in what might have been one of the worst off-seasons in modern sports history. San Francisco, along with Colin, watched more than 16 players either retire or flee to free agency following Jim Harbaugh's departure to the collegiate level, among other coaches leaving the 49ers as well. Nothing has been the same for Kaepernick, Not his coaching staff, not his play, not even his diet.
So following another disappointing campaign in 2016, Colin opted out of his newly structured deal, and decided it was best if they started seeing other people.
Here's where the tin-foil hats start to emerge from the cornfields.
In-case you somehow forgot, 2016 kicked off the year of Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protests. Kaepernick received much backlash for his kneeling during the star-spangled banner, and many athletes followed suit in support. Many fans turned to booing, boycotting, and even humoring the message Colin was trying to peacefully portray.
It was a truly odd moment for us as a society, to poke athletes and wish upon a star for them to use their platform to speak their minds and stand up (or kneel in this case) for what they thought was right. We as people thirst for this so bad- but only if it's our views they're projecting.
Colin Kaepernick officially opted out on March 3rd, and less than a month into the process, still remains jobless. The question we all pondered was where he would be starting, not when he would be offered a job. More-so, the question being asked is why? Why doesn't Colin have a job yet?
Grab those hats I was telling you about, kids.
An overwhelming majority of social media and news outlets cling to the narrative that Colin is being treated unfairly in his job hunt, maintaining the idea that his protests and outspoken beliefs are ultimately costing him another chance to play the game that he loves. And as much as I would love to play along with the story-line, I simply cannot.
It's simply not true.
Now before the social justice warriors burn this article down and follow suit on my social media sites, we need to acknowledge the fact that I like Colin. He seems like a caring person who actually took a stand for his beliefs, while also following through with his word about donations (when's the last time your favorite athlete put 60 tons of food and water on a plane to aid in helping end famine?). Whether you agree with his political beliefs or not, the way he is carrying himself and holding true is something to be respected.
However, Colin Kaepernick is NOT a good quarterback. Not since Harbaugh dashed for Michigan. His arm strength is phenomenal, yet when a football isn't on target, the velocity of a ball doesn't matter as much as it should. Colin has happy feet, tends to ditch the play and takeoff with the football, struggles to progress through reads and even struggles identifying defenses. We're talking about a man who was benched for Blaine Gabbert, multiple times.
And you expect him to find a job where exactly?
If Jay Cutler, who is somewhat a better quarterback than Colin, is struggling to find a new home as a starting quarterback, one can only fathom how hard-pressed Kaepernick is to find a new gig. It was recently brought to light by many outlets that Kaepernick was asking for $9-10 million a year, and a chance at a starting position. That's an awful lot to expect given his downward play the past three seasons. Colin's not exactly doing himself any favors in this process.
As much as there is to blame on Colin pinning his hopes of a news start on an outdated version of himself, the market also takes it's fair share of blame.
Put yourself in the shoes of an NFL GM who's seeking an NFL quarterback for the future. In this example, we'll use the Cleveland Browns. With the amount of draft picks acquired, it's clear the path to rebuilding your franchise is through a youth movement. Who's ceiling is higher? A quarterback about to hit 30 this year who's been torched by opposing defenses on a routine basis, or an up and coming college kid you can groom as your own into your system and culture? Teams such as Cleveland are looking to build long term, and Kaepernick simply doesn't fit the visions of the future.
But what about teams built to win now? Surely they would take a look at Colin given his situation. And that may be true, had he been willing to accept a discounted salary and willing to be a number two man in case they needed him to be. However, with Dallas dangling a hot and ready Tony Romo to teams such as Denver and Houston and names such as Kirk Cousins and Jay Cutler who are more capable of leading a team at this time, Colin is stuck in a market that doesn't believe in his ability to win now, or win for the future.
The eye opening part of this whole scenario is Kaepernick left on his own terms. After all, he was the one who opted out of his deal with San Francisco. As a 49er, Colin was at least guaranteed to be on the roster and compete to win. Even more astonishing? Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers, not only supported Colin, but highly praised him for his efforts. It's not clear exactly why Colin left the surest bet to continue playing football to see if the grass is indeed greener on the other side. Either Colin thought he was worth much more, or he needs a new group of friends around him.
Yet many of those around me continue to hold true to their hearts that Kaepernick is indeed a victim. A victim of a 2017 America where you can't speak your mind against the establishment without becoming an outcast and sacrificing everything. It's difficult to find a true comparison to Kaep's unique situation, however many are quick and continuous to draw comparisons to former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow (don't get me started), a man who is also notoriously misconceived for being ran out of the NFL for being outspoken about his beliefs. Fun fact: If Tim was as talented as everybody believed him to be, he'd still be playing.
What it boils down to, is a question many coaches, scouts and front office personnel have to ask themselves every year when evaluating players: Can this guy play at a high enough level to win us football games?
It's not about kneeling in front of dozens of cameras to get your message across. It's not about locker room interviews getting political. This league and professional sports in general have, and always will be commanded by talent over everything. If a guy is talented enough, those issues are tabloid material at best. Should Kaepernick have begun this in the greater stages of his career (which raises another valid point, where was he years ago with all of this?) Colin would receive much less negative reflex from those around him. Why? Because when you are talented enough to effect football games, the guy in the press box who signs your checks is much more willing to ride with you.
But here's to the sincerest of hopes that Colin revitalizes his career. The narrative of the 2017 NFL would be much juicer with Kaepernick on his revenge tour, and to wish harm on anybody's career path goes against moral duties of our society. Colin has done a lot of good off the field, and unfortunately his play on the field doesn't quite match up to the standard.
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee on that faithful night, spurring one of the most controversial and recycled news story driven seasons we've seen yet, he chose to exercise his freedom, something he is entitled and welcomed to do, For freedom is what this country was built upon. Just don't be upset when teams decide to do the same.
You reap what you sow, Colin.
Donnie Druin is an award-winning writer from the Arizona Newspaper Association. Follow him on Twitter @DonnieDruin
for updates/news/takes on all the sports you love, or just to tell him to stand up off the couch while the national anthem plays on TV.