Even with 111 quarterbacks currently under contract for the 2017 season, the NFL has a QB shortage.
Teams will make big sacrifices to find and keep a quarterback, like trade multiple first-round picks or pay $22 million per year. At least seven teams still are looking for their long-term answer and could use an upgrade at the position.
Yet an intriguing option remains available as an unrestricted free agent. He’s a five-year starter and 29 years old, a good mix of youth and experience. He has led his team to the playoffs and started in a Super Bowl.
He started his team’s last 11 games last season, and though his team lost 10 of them, he wasn’t terrible. He ranked 17th in passer rating at 90.7, better than Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, and Cam Newton, among others. His 16-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio was tied for third best in the NFL, behind Tom Brady and Dak Prescott.
He’s also a great athlete, rushing for 468 yards and two touchdowns. He’s 6 feet 4 inches and has one of the strongest arms in football. Oh, and his teammates voted him the 2016 winner of his team’s Len Eshmont Award for exemplifying “inspirational and courageous play.”
By now you know we are talking about Colin Kaepernick, who despite those credentials hasn’t received a whiff of interest from any NFL team in the two-plus months he has been a free agent.
Kaepernick supporters have been crying foul since March that Kaepernick is being “blackballed” for his controversial stance to kneel during the national anthem last season and for his overt political stances in general.
Kaepernick’s many detractors point out that he has regressed significantly without former coach Jim Harbaugh, ranking in the bottom 25 percent in many passing stats last year. They whisper rumors that Kaepernick’s vegan diet has left him too frail to play in the NFL, that he’s asking for too much money and playing time, that he’s a locker room distraction, or that he may be more interested in social causes than playing football.
The NFL denies accusations that Kaepernick is being blackballed.
“I haven’t heard that from our clubs in any way that that’s an issue,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in late March. “In my experience in 35 years, our clubs make independent evaluations of players. They work hard to try to improve their teams. If they think a player can help them improve their team, they’re going to do that.”
It’s true, NFL teams almost always care about talent above all else. And free agency is a long, fluid process. I could understand a team not wanting to sign Kaepernick before May 9 so as not to upset their compensatory draft pick equation. Kaepernick is hardly the only veteran player still without a job.
But NFL teams are running out of reasons to not sign Kaepernick.
The May 9 deadline has passed, meaning teams won’t have to sacrifice a compensatory draft pick if they sign Kaepernick. Seventeen of 32 teams are carrying three or fewer quarterbacks for the offseason and have space for another arm.
And for those who say Kaepernick can’t play in the NFL anymore, look at the list of quarterbacks who have signed this offseason: Kellen Clemens, Josh Johnson, Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez, and Matt McGloin among them. Ryan Mallett just signed for $2 million this year with the Ravens. Blaine Gabbert, who lost his job to Kaepernick last year in San Francisco, just signed with the Cardinals.
The Cowboys look like the perfect landing spot, with a similarly athletic QB as the starter (Dak Prescott) and only two QBs on the roster (Prescott, Kellen Moore).
Yet by all accounts Kaepernick hasn’t gotten one tryout, or spoken about a contract with any NFL team.
Kaepernick has become a lightning rod, and everyone seems to have a comment on his situation — except Kaepernick himself. Kaepernick has not discussed his intentions publicly since becoming a free agent, leaving his motivations open to interpretation.
Some 49ers sources tell The MMQB’s Peter King that Kaepernick “might actually rather do social justice work full time than play quarterback,” viewed by many as part of the reason for the NFL’s blackballing campaign. ESPN’s Adam Schefter says Kaepernick plans to stand for the national anthem in 2017, but Kaepernick never said it publicly. Sociologist and African-American activist Harry Edwards, who claims to be mentoring Kaepernick, says he has spoken with three teams about Kaepernick.
“They’ve asked, ‘Can he play? Does he want to play?’ ” Edwards told USA Today. “The last question I can’t answer. The first question, absolutely. If Kap makes up his mind, he wouldn’t only go in and make a team, he’d put pressure on somebody to start.”
But the fact that Edwards doesn’t even know if Kaepernick wants to play suggests he’s not all too close with the quarterback. Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab, shot down the notion that Kaepernick has received some interest.
“What supposed ‘three’ teams?” she said on Twitter. “If this was really from his ‘adviser’ Colin would [have] known about it.”
What’s clear is it’s time for Kaepernick to state his intentions to the world, via social media or otherwise. Is he willing to sign for a backup’s salary and compete for a roster spot? Is football still important to him? Does he feel he is getting blackballed?
It’s the only way to stem the tide of innuendo, agendas, and misinformation that is rising against him.
But it’s also clear that there should be a spot in the league for a quarterback with Kaepernick’s credentials and level of play last year. Kaepernick, for all his flaws as a passer, is not worse than 111 other quarterbacks. If he’s not on a team this training camp and it’s not his choice, it will be hard to look at it as anything other than a blackball situation.
Union fights back on rookie deals
A big part of the new collective bargaining agreement was slotting signing bonuses for draft picks and greatly reducing the possibility of a rookie contract squabble. And the new rules have certainly had their desired effect, outside of Joey Bosa’s holdout last year.
The NFL had a flurry of draft signings late last week, but the needle was moving more slowly in the first two weeks this year than last year. As of Thursday, only 42 of 253 draftees (16.6 percent) had signed deals, compared with 145 of 253 at this point last year (57.3 percent).
One reason for the trickle: The NFL Players Association is fighting back against teams trying to slip unfavorable terms into rookie contracts.
On April 29, the final day of the draft, the NFLPA legal department sent out a memo to agents informing them about terms that are allowed in contracts and, more importantly, terms that they cannot agree to.
According to the memo, obtained by the Globe, some of the prohibited terms that teams tried to introduce in 2016 rookie contracts include:
■ Provisions that add a requirement that a player submit to a medical exam at the start of voluntary workouts in addition to the mandatory minicamp exam.
■ Representation and warranty clauses that require the player to not only attest that no facts exist at the time the contract is executed that would prevent the player’s availability to the club, but also that no facts will exist in the future that would prevent the player’s availability to the club.
■ And a requirement that in addition to disclosing information known to a player regarding his physical or mental condition that could impair his performance, a player must also disclose at all times the state of and any changes in his health. Moreover, a player cannot undertake or undergo any physical therapy medical treatment or similar treatment without first specifically informing the club.
The second bulletpoint relates to Article 35 of the standard player contract and applies directly to the Aaron Hernandez case.
Article 35 states the language about facts existing at the time of the contract that would prevent a player’s availability, but says nothing about facts in the future (“How can we predict what a player is going to do in the future?” one agent asked).
An arbitration interpretation of Article 35 in Hernandez’s contract will likely be at the center of a fight for more than $5 million in guaranteed money the Patriots withheld from Hernandez. Hernandez signed his contract in August 2012, about a month after the double murders of which he was acquitted.
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No offseason for Patriots news
■ The Patriots’ rare use of the free agent tender with LeGarrette Blount last week sparked a question: Why don’t teams use this option? Of the 150 players still listed as unrestricted free agents, Blount was the only one to receive this tender, which guarantees him a salary of 110 percent from last year and qualifies the Patriots to receive a compensatory draft pick for Blount if he signs with another team. Former Packers president Andrew Brandt said that he had never seen a team use this in his 10 years in the league.
But Blount appears to be a rare case. Most free agents that last on the open market for two months are still available for a reason, and usually aren’t worth 110 percent of their previous year’s salary. But Blount was productive last year, should still have some good football left in his legs, and had a base salary of only about $1 million, making him a unique candidate for this tender.
■ The NFLPA tracks how many undrafted free agents make their team’s 53-man roster or practice squad for Week 1, and the Patriots have been above league average for most of the last decade.
In 2016, the Patriots kept 6 of 9 (67 percent), and the league average was 41 percent. In 2015, they kept 6 of 12 (50 percent), compared with 39.6 percent for the league. And in 2013 the Patriots kept 19 of 24 (79.2 percent), compared with 37.4 percent for the league. The 2014 season was a different story, with the Patriots only keeping 5 of 22 (22.7 percent), below the league average of 41.1 percent.
■ James White can earn up to $1 million in incentives each year from 2018-20 as part of his new contract, but he won’t have an easy time achieving them. In each season, White can earn $250,000 for playing in 50 percent of snaps and another $250,000 for 60 percent of snaps. He can earn $250,000 for gaining 1,000 total yards, and another $250,000 for 1,200 total yards.
White has never gained more than 717 total yards or played in more than 38 percent of snaps in a season, and he is part of a crowded backfield that for now includes Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead.
Who will have the final say?
When the NFL voted to move to a centralized instant replay process for the 2017 season, three people were going to have final say on calls — Dean Blandino, Alberto Riveron, and a supervising official that rotates each week.
So when Blandino caught everyone off guard by resigning from the league last month, the NFL made the sensible move and promoted Riveron to Blandino’s position.
They actually split Blandino’s responsibilities between three people. Riveron, a native of Cuba who in 2004 became the NFL’s first Hispanic official, will oversee the entire officiating department, including the implementation of the new replay process.
Russell Yurk, who was a high school and college official for 10 years and an NFL replay official for the last seven, will direct and oversee the instant replay operation. And Wayne Mackie, a 10-year NFL official, will run the officiating development and evaluation program.
The hires are being received well by many NFL officials, mostly due to having experience in their fields. Many officials did not appreciate having to answer to Blandino, who never was an on-field official or instant replay official.
Interestingly, the wording of the press release makes it unclear whether Riveron or Yurk has final say on instant replay decisions, and the league office twice declined to respond to e-mails asking to clear it up.
The Bengals used the No. 9 overall draft pick on receiver John Ross even though he suffered major injuries to both knees in college, but they don’t seem too worried. They already signed Ross to his rookie deal, and it contains a clause acknowledging his preexisting injuries, and allows Ross to make his entire $465,000 salary in 2017 with no threat of an injury split. Many teams force rookies and young players to take injury splits in their contracts, which lowers their salary to $348,000 if they land on injured reserve . . . The Colts look to be this year’s team thinking outside the box to help get back to the playoffs. With new GM Chris Ballard running the show, the Colts on Friday hired former US Army Green Beret Brian Decker as a “player personnel strategist.” Decker, who says he can use military teachings to help identify players who have the right temperament and makeup to thrive in the NFL, has previously consulted for the Browns and a handful of other teams. The Colts also brought in a jiu-jitsu coach, according to the Indianapolis Star, who is teaching offensive and defensive linemen new techniques to help them create a better center of balance and keep their heads out of collisions . . . The annual reveal of the NFL Network’s top 100 players shows once again why it’s good not to have players vote for real awards like league MVP. The players voted LeGarrette Blount as the 80th-best player in the league in 2016, ahead of Dont’a Hightower (94), and Malcolm Butler (99)? Come on . . . Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy and his wife, Marissa, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for their initiatives relating to National Foster Care Month. The Van Noys are hoping to raise enough funds to provide Christmas for 53 families in Boston and 53 in their hometown of Provo, Utah. “This is a mission that’s so close to our hearts,” Van Noy said. “I was adopted as an infant and Marissa’s father and younger brother were both adopted, as well. We are totally committed to doing anything we can to help make a difference in the lives of foster children.” . . . The NFL expanded its partnership with Twitter last week, agreeing to a multiyear deal to provide content on the social media site. The NFL will produce a 30-minute live digital show that will air on Twitter five days a week during the season, and will utilize Periscope and Twitter to broadcast pregame locker rooms and other behind-the-scenes action on game days. The NFL also provides instant replay video via Twitter, and streamed nine games live on the service last fall.
With the fifth overall pick in the draft, the Titans selected Corey Davis to bolster their passing game. The Western Michigan alum is just the 24th wide receiver to be taken in the top five, and only the sixth since 2007. Here’s a look at how the other five fared in their inaugural seasons and over their careers: