Does Colin Kaepernick Deserve Another Shot In The NFL? We Ask The Madden 18 Sim Engine
If there’s one thing we know about the NFL, it’s that the front office doesn’t like distractions. If you're in the headlines for anything other than playing football, celebrity appearances, or charity work, the league is probably pissed off about it. The NFL Personal Conduct Policy is commissioner Roger Goodell's weapon of choice against those who run afoul of the law, giving his disciplinary board carte blanche to suspend drug abusers, domestic abusers, dog abusers, Deflategate scapegoats, and the like. But even if you are a law-abiding citizen merely exercising your first amendment rights, you can still suffer an involuntary expulsion from the league.
Ask Chris Kluwe. The former Minnesota Vikings punter made waves with his Deadspin columns defending same-sex marriage. The Vikings released him in 2014, after which he accused former head coach Leslie Frazier of telling him to stop speaking out on the issue. He also accused special teams coach Mike Priefer of making homophobic statements during team meetings. After an investigation, Preifer was suspended for three games. Kluwe’s career, however, never got back on track. The Oakland Raiders signed him to a one-year deal to compete with Marquette King for the punting job. King won the job and went on to become an All-Pro punter. No other teams bothered to call, but at least Kluwe got a tryout.
The latest player experiencing the unofficial NFL blacklist is Colin Kaepernick. During Jim Harbaugh’s run as San Francisco 49ers head coach, Kaepernick led the team to two straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. Once Harbaugh left and the 49ers’ coaching carousel began, Kaepernick’s performances became more erratic. His statistics ranked toward the bottom of the starting quarterbacks, which seemed to indicate his next gig would be a backup quarterback position. But Kaepernick got more attention for what he did on the sidelines than he did for his play, and that seems to have cost him.
During a 2016 preseason game, Kaepernick refused to stand for the U.S. national anthem. When the media asked him about it during the post-game interview, his answer echoed the concerns of activist groups like Black Lives Matter. “I'm not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Like most things in America’s current political climate, his actions proved polarizing. His stand against inequality became a media talking point for the rest of the season, with everyone from former players, owners, and presidents weighing in.
After leaving the 49ers via free agency at the end of the year, Kaepernick found out just how much this controversy made him a pariah. Despite his jersey ranking among the best-sellers in the NFL and several other players on other teams refusing to stand for the anthem as well, job openings came and went with no offers.
Kaepernick’s lack of opportunity continues to be a hot-button topic around the league. Is he being frozen out for his political activism, or has his play regressed so far that he no longer deserves a spot on a roster? Some league insiders still contend the latter. But when you put Kaepernick’s numbers and experience up against the rest of the quarterbacks in the league it becomes much harder to argue that he shouldn’t at least get a shot as a backup over the likes of Austin Davis, Scott Tolzien, and Ryan Mallett.
To see whether or not Kaepernick deserves to be on an NFL roster based on his ability alone, we tapped Madden NFL 18 to run some simulations. Would he make teams better or worse if he were forced into duty as a starting quarterback? Check out the results below.
Colin Kaepernick’s Base Rating
Looking at Kaepernick’s Madden rating, he’s tied for 38th amongst quarterbacks with a 73 overall. Depending on what team scheme you plug Kaepernick into, his rating can rise up to 75 overall (as seen above). This puts him outside the realm of starting quarterbacks but clearly designates him as a player good enough to compete for a backup position. Worth noting: The 73 overall is the same rating as last year’s number-one overall draft pick, Jared Goff.
To see how teams performed without Kaepernick, we ran a control sim where he was stashed deep on a team roster to prevent another team from picking him up, and turned off injuries to keep the starting quarterbacks healthy. Like most actual NFL seasons, the control simulation had some surprises. Expected contenders like the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders had horrific seasons, and the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars somehow became a winning franchise.
With the control simulation in place, we set up 32 new simulations naming Kaepernick the starter on each team to see if they’d do better or worse with him under center. Let’s get to the results.
Not every team suffered with Kaepernick under center. He led 9 of the 32 teams to winning records, with 8 of those earning playoff births. Five of the teams he quarterbacked ended the season with 8-8 records, and the other 18 fared poorly, with more losses than wins. The drop off was typically steepest when taking over for elite quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger, though some bottom-feeding teams like the Bears and Browns also struggled with Kaepernick at the helm.
Kaepernick may not have been a great fit for all the clubs, but he was a match made in heaven for Philadelphia. Kaep led the Eagles to a 10-6 record and took the team all the way to the NFC Championship game. The Eagles knocked off the Vikings and Packers in the playoffs before succumbing to the high-flying Atlanta Falcons.
Fake Belichick Knows Best
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick refuses to join the NFL Coaches Association, which handles the negotiations for coach likenesses appearing in Madden, so he's not in the game. Belichick may not be stalking the New England sidelines in his signature oversized hoodie with cut-off sleeves, but the fictitious coach handling the leadership duties in his absence was more than up to the task. Though the Patriots barely squeaked into the playoffs with Kaepernick taking over for G.O.A.T. Tom Brady, Fake Belichick found a way to get the best out of Colin Kaepernick. Under his guidance, Kaep threw for 4,191 yards and a whopping 39 touchdowns.
An Ugly Homecoming
The San Francisco 49ers are heading into the regular season with Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, and rookie C.J. Bethard currently filling their quarterback depth chart. This doesn't exactly conjure images of the franchise's storied past with names like Joe Montana and Steve Young. I figured Kaepernick would be able to match or improve on the paltry 4-12 record the control sim produced, but sometimes a player just needs a change of scenery. Kaepernick's return to the Bay Area was an unmitigated disaster, resulting in an abysmal 1-14-1 record for the club and surely putting new GM John Lynch and new head coach Kyle Shanahan on the immediate hot seat.
As we anticipated, Kaepernicks' performances were a mixed bag. His shaky accuracy sank the fortunes of many highly regarded teams like the Seahawks, Packers, and Chiefs. That said, leading 9 of 32 teams to winning records is nothing to scoff at, with one making a remarkable run to the NFC title game.
Teams may not want the added controversy of having a player using his position in the media to speak out on sensitive social issues, but when it comes down to simple execution on the football field, the Madden sim argued that some teams in a bind could do a lot worse than having Colin Kaepernick slinging the pigskin. Who knows, maybe he'll be the next great NFL redemption story. If he ever gets that phone call...