The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NFL teams are taking risks on players with legal issues, but not Colin Kaepernick. Interesting.

Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned as a free agent. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

When it first was suggested this offseason that Colin Kaepernick was being blackballed by NFL teams because of his political statement made last year, it seemed premature to evaluate the validity of that claim.

At that point, some teams still were sorting through their starting-quarterback situations, so backup jobs could be settled later. Offseason practices still were to come, and training camp, the preseason and the regular season were a long way off.

From March: Is Colin Kaepernick being blackballed by NFL teams? Perhaps. But it’s too soon to know for sure

But now it’s not so early in the offseason. Free agency was pretty much done quite a while ago. The NFL draft has come and gone. Quarterbacks who didn’t play as well as Kaepernick did last season, including former teammate Blaine Gabbert, have found work. And still, Kaepernick remains without an NFL job.

It’s time for that to change. This isn’t supposed to be about politics. And it’s clear to those in and around the league that Kaepernick, the former Super Bowl starter who threw 16 touchdown passes with four interceptions to go with a passer rating of 90.7 last season, belongs on a roster for 2017.

“I don’t know exactly what’s going on, and I can’t speak for other teams,” said an executive with one NFL franchise whose team is not in the market for a quarterback, speaking on the condition of anonymity last week because of the sensitivity of the topic. “If you base it on his play, he clearly should be signed somewhere.”

From before free agency: Colin Kaepernick made a political statement that could still matter as he seeks his next NFL job

Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said in a radio interview Monday he is considering Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III as candidates to back up Russell Wilson.

“We’re looking at everybody,” Carroll told a Seattle radio station when asked about those two players. “We really are. We’ve been tracking everything that’s going on, and we’ve got [salary] cap and roster issues and stuff like that that we’re still trying to manage properly. But quite frankly, yes, we are looking at all those guys.”

Carroll and the Seahawks are right to look at Kaepernick. For now, they have Trevone Boykin backing up Wilson.

But the Seahawks shouldn’t be alone. Peruse the list of backup quarterbacks throughout the NFL. It includes Kellen Moore in Dallas, Case Keenum in Minnesota, Derek Anderson in Carolina, Ryan Mallett in Baltimore, Scott Tolzien in Indianapolis, Chad Henne in Jacksonville, Matt Cassel in Tennessee, EJ Manuel or Connor Cook in Oakland, Kellen Clemens with the Los Angeles Chargers, Sean Mannion with the Los Angeles Rams, Matt Schaub in Atlanta, Nick Foles in Philadelphia, Brett Hundley in Green Bay and Ryan Griffin in Tampa.

Gabbert was signed by the Arizona Cardinals. Geno Smith was signed this offseason by the New York Giants.

And Kaepernick cannot get a job.

The notion that Kaepernick might be asking for too much money appears unfounded. Former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe said last week on Fox Sports 1 that he’d spoken to Kaepernick. According to Sharpe, teams didn’t know how much money Kaepernick wanted because none of them, to that point, had spoken to Kaepernick or his representatives. The Seahawks reportedly made contact with Kaepernick’s representatives late last week.

Kaepernick became a polarizing figure after he refused to stand for the national anthem before games last season in protest of the treatment of African Americans in the United States. Supporters said he was bringing attention to an important issue and exercising his fundamental right to protest. Detractors said he was being unpatriotic and disrespectful to the flag and to those who have served the country as military members.

Some have attributed the lack of interest in Kaepernick to the fact that he must fit into any interested team’s offensive system, and to the fact that coaches and front-office executives don’t want to deal with distractions created by a player who won’t even be a starter.

But Kaepernick’s on-field production last season was sufficient enough to warrant an opportunity somewhere. And as the draft reinforced, talent usually trumps off-field considerations when it comes to job opportunities. At least five teams used picks in the draft on players with histories of legal issues.

That included the Raiders using their first-round pick, the 24th  overall selection, on cornerback Gareon Conley, who is being investigated for an alleged sexual assault in Cleveland. Conley has denied the accusation. The Cincinnati Bengals used a second-round choice on running back Joe Mixon, who reportedly was removed from the draft boards of some NFL teams because of a 2014 incident in which he punched a woman and broke bones in her face. Mixon was charged with a misdemeanor but reached a plea deal to avoid jail time. He was suspended for the entire 2014 college season by Oklahoma.

Cincinnati TV station urges fans to boycott Bengals for drafting player who punched a woman

Bengals owner Mike Brown, in a letter to the team’s fans published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, wrote of the pick: “In making our decision, we took a risk. In this case, the risk has an upside as well as a downside. We believe Joe has put this behind him and that he can turn into the player and community member that creates a plus for Cincinnati. We are going to do everything in our power to make this happen. Our hope is that time will prove that this opportunity is deserved, and perhaps — if given a chance — Joe can write a chapter in Cincinnati sports history that both he and Cincinnati can be proud of.”

If such off-field misdeeds don’t disqualify a player from being on an NFL roster, why should Colin Kaepernick’s politics disqualify him?

It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with Kaepernick. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

It’s supposed to be about football.

And Kaepernick is more than qualified to be a backup somewhere. If that doesn’t come about relatively soon, the allegation that he is being blackballed by teams leaguewide won’t just be credible. It will be self-evident.