After one week, the NFL has graced the American sports world with a great many questions.
Are the Cincinnati Bengals that bad? Are the Los Angeles Rams really that good? Has Father Time finally caught up with Tom Brady?
With all the uncertainty pulsing through the NFL following one weekend of play, one thing is absolutely certain — Colin Kaepernick has more than enough quarterbacking talent to play in this league.
Eleven quarterbacks finished Week 1 with passer ratings more than 10 points below Kaepernick’s career average of 88.9 with two of the league’s starters benched over ineffectiveness.
Even if we remove promising youngster Marcus Mariota, along with Brady, Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson — veterans one can expect to rebound from poor starts, that leaves six teams who started quarterbacks whom Kaepernick may have been able to beat out given a preseason opportunity. Six — nearly one-fifth of the league — who could have benefited from Kaepernick in week one. Six teams more willing to play the hand they were dealt than draw for a wild card. And that is leaving Miami’s Matt Moore — he of the career 82 rating — out of the mix altogether.
Coming off a season in which his rating was 90.7, good enough 17th best in the league, Kaepernick finished the offseason without so much as a camp invite. His detractors would tell you that he was among the worst-performing quarterbacks in the league — though his 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (T-6th best) would disagree.
Meanwhile, Matt Stafford of the Detroit Lions was given a league-record $135 million contract coming off a season in which he threw 24 touchdowns and was picked 10 times.
That’s not to say that “Kap” is better, per se, than the one-time Pro-Bowler Stafford — career 87.1 rating — just finding a basis of comparison.
But let’s focus on the quarterbacks who were unworthy in Week 1, starting with Kaepernick’s former team. The San Francisco 49ers began the Kyle Shanahan era never finding the endzone and losing 23-3 to the Carolina Panthers. Brian Hoyer and his career 84.4 passer rating opened the 49ers season completing 66 percent (24-of-35) of his passes, but for a mere 193 yards (8 yards per completion) and one interception, finishing the afternoon with a 70.3 rating.
To be fair, Hoyer was under pressure all game, playing behind the same offensive line that left Kaerpenick running for his life so many times last year, and looking for targets in an offense devoid of them. And the tabbing of Hoyer came only after Kaepernick opted out of the final year of his contract, so perhaps this situation is far from suiting.
Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco, a pair of veterans who have seen their time in the sun, each continued horrid stretches — Flacco more so than Palmer.
Since beating Kaep’s 49ers in Super Bowl 48, Flacco has finished just one season with a passer rating above 83.5 — 91.0 in 2014 — and brought 1.3-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio into the season. He continued right along, riding his defense to a 20-0 defeat of the Bengals, finishing with a 71.0 rating with one touchdown and one interception.
Flacco’s backup on the Ravens is Ryan Mallet, meaning Baltimore came into the season planning to ride its starter until the wheels fall off despite missing out on the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsom showed interest in Kaerpenick in the offseason, but according to Dianna Russini of ESPN, owner Steve Bisciotti nixed the deal over the quarterback’s views on Civil Rights and racial inequality. Now his team will roost in its backfield mess.
The Cardinals‘ 35-23 loss to the Lions was due in large part to Palmer’s three interceptions. He did get into the endzone once to finish the game with a 53.2 rating. Arizona, unlike the 49ers, have the ability to give their quarterback time to survey the field and targets to survey.
Palmer’s 87.2 rating a year ago came on the heels of a season — his 36-year-old season — in which he posted a 104.6. Now 38, he is joined by Drew Stanton and third-stringer Blaine Gabbert — Kaepernick’s backup in San Francisco last season. Arizona’s taking a guy that lost out on a job to Kaep just a year ago to fill a role many teams don’t is a statement: “we don’t want you.” So we can rule them out, apparently.
Tom Savage was benched in his season opener for the Texans after completing 7-of-13 passes for 62 yards and a 66.8 rating. But Houston has No. 12 overall pick Deshaun Watson eagerly waiting in the wings, making that a very unlikely landing zone should Kaep ever find the field again.
Scott Tolzien was also benched in a 46-9 drubbing by the Rams. He was picked twice, finishing with a 33.8 passer rating. According to Ian Rapoport, appearing on NFL Gameday Morning, Andrew Luck could be out until November, leaving Indianapolis with the combo of Tolzien and Jacoby Brissett, who completed 2-of-3 passes.
But, according to Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, “the only thing that’s clear about the Colts’ quarterback situation” is it doesn’t involve Kaepernick.
That leaves the Jets, whose Sunday starter Josh McCown threw for 187 yards and two picks posting a 56.3 passer rating in a 21-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills. McCown and his career 77.8 rating has now lost 17 of his last 18 starts, and New York doesn’t exactly have answers behind their starter, either. Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg serve as McCown’s backups, the former boasting a 60.0 rating in six games and the latter never having played an NFL regular season game.
The Big Apple also offers a very eclectic demographic and one of Kaep’s most notable support systems in the league, as evidence by rallies of nearly 100 active and retired NYPD officers. As reported by Huffington Post’s Taryn Finley, the “#ImWithKap” movement also includes New York City Councilman Jumaane D. Williams.
Will the Jets make a move toward bolstering their backfield with a former Super Bowl starter? That it has even taken this long is confusing. That is among other questions revolving around the quarterback’s continued absence.
What we know for sure. Kaepernick is a good enough quarterback to help many teams as a starter, and definitely good enough to provide nearly every team an improvement at the backup spot, but due to his stance on racial inequalities and excessive police force, he may never get a chance.
Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Raiders beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.