The quarterback market has spoken, and for Colin Kaepernick, the news isn’t good.
Cam Newton, like Jameis Winston before him, has signed a one-year deal for a fraction of what he was making in his prior contract. The goal here obviously is for each player to show that he still has gas in the tank — Newton with the Patriots, Winston with the Saints — and parlay 2020’s performance into a bigger long-term deal next offseason.
It’s a sign of a depressed quarterback market … and if you happen to be a quarterback still looking for a job, you just lost a few more dollars off your asking price. When a former MVP is “only” getting an incentive-laden contract worth a maximum of $7.5 million, you know the market is resetting itself, hard. (Is it a fair resetting? Well, that’s an entirely different question. If Mitchell Trubisky gets multiple five-year, nine-figure offers next offseason, we’ll know.)
Now, as for Kaepernick ... look, just for a few paragraphs here, set aside the protest aspect of his career and look at him purely as a quarterback. He left the San Francisco 49ers in early 2017, opting out of his contract after being told he’d be cut later in the year. At the time, he slotted right in the middle of the NFL’s quarterback rankings. Not nearly as good as the Rodgers/Brees/Brady crew, far better than the who’s-that-guy QBs who would be signed to, and cut from, the bottoms of depth charts over the next three seasons.
The NFL as much as verified that it was Kaepernick’s protests that kept him unsigned. Now, with social awareness at a generational high and respect for athlete protests at an all-time high, Kaepernick would seem to have an opportunity to compete for a new job. But two primary questions remain: is he good enough to land a gig, and is he willing to take the tiny — again, relative term — salary that would come of it?
The critique that Kaepernick couldn’t play in a conventional system was always a poorly framed excuse. A team structures its system around its quarterback’s skills, and any offensive coordinator who couldn’t design a scheme with a mobile, accurate quarterback like Kaepernick ought to go back to playing “Madden” for a couple seasons.
Is he still that mobile quarterback? Is he anything close? I was at Kaepernick’s live audition back in November — which seems like a decade ago — and while I’m no quarterbacks scout, I can tell you this: while Kaepernick’s arm strength, accuracy and touch were on point, we didn’t get a single chance to see him in any sort of game action. No throwing into coverage, no throwing under pressure, no attempt to simulate any kind of heat-of-the-moment application of his skills.
Whether by accident or design, that’s all we’ve seen of Kaepernick since he walked off the field on New Year’s Day 2017 after a 25-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Newton, on the other hand, has spent much of his time since then recovering from one injury after another. He suffered through a series of maladies in 2018 before bottoming out in 2019 and playing just two games.
Even so, even given the fact that Kaepernick is “fresh” and Newton has spent the majority of his career getting pounded on like a batting-practice fastball, who would you rather take right now, Newton or Kaepernick? Exactly. Newton every day of the week, and twice on football Sundays.
There’s still a chance that Kaepernick will get a training camp invite, at least so a team (the Los Angeles Chargers?) can see whether he has anything left in the tank. But as the contracts for Newton and Winston have shown, the market for quarterbacks is about as strong as the market for pumpkins in April.
If Kaepernick wants back in the NFL, if he’s basing his return on any specific salary figure, the market suggests he’ll need to swallow his pride. The going rate for a former Super Bowl quarterback isn’t what it was two days ago.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at email@example.com.
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