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Value of Colin Kaepernick's activism aside, QB skills are suspect

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Chris Wesseling has had it up to HERE with the faulty football logic he's seen flying fast and furious lately. Below, he thoroughly -- if a bit crankily -- debunks some of the more galling popular fallacies that have taken root.

Colin Kaepernick is more of a Rorschach prism than an inkblot test. Beyond perceiving what we want to see in his actions, we use him as an avatar to reflect our personal agendas.

President Trump has turned Kaepernick into a political football, playing to the crowd at a rally in America's heartland.

Several NFL teams reportedly view the free-agent quarterback as a "cautionary tale," a means to discourage other players from using their gridiron platform for polarizing protests such as taking a knee (a universal symbol of fealty and respect, parenthetically) during the national anthem.

Against that disheartening backdrop, a groundswell of outrage has erupted, thrusting Kaepernick into the role of activist martyr allegedly blacklisted by the 32 teams.

Agendas aside, there's nothing mysterious about a fringe NFL starter with presumably grandiose monetary and opportunity expectations going unsigned two weeks into free agency.

Remember the Great Ryan Fitzpatrick Blacklisting of 2016? After setting the Jets' single-season record for touchdowns, the journeyman quarterback was forced to wait until July to get paid as a borderline backup. For that matter, where's Spike Lee to advocate for an ostracized Jay Cutler in the face of the same cold shoulder that has greeted Kaepernick this offseason?

"Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick ... are more talented than some of the guys that are signing, there's no question about that," NFL Network's Mike Garafolo explained earlier this week. "But some of the guys that are signing are taking a lot less money. They're also taking different situations ... Colin Kaepernick is still a guy that probably believes that he can still compete for a starting job and become a franchise quarterback, so that changes the dynamic a little bit with him. ..."

At this time a year ago, current Dolphins coach Adam Gase was taking victory laps for turning Cutler's career around as the offensive coordinator in Chicago, while the 49ers debated whether to trade, release or keep Kaepernick on the heels of his ignominious benching in favor of the inimitable Blaine Gabbert. Their respective contracts in Chicago and San Francisco suggest Cutler was always viewed as the more valuable asset.

After rewatching all 11 of Kaepernick's 2016 starts this week, I found no reason to believe he should have a more vigorous market than Cutler. Quite the contrary; it was exceedingly obvious why Kaepernick is not in demand as a potential starter.

In the hierarchy of hurdles to the league's 32 coveted QB1 openings, the fallout from Kaepernick's polarizing protest ranks a distant third behind passing ability and scheme fit. If multiple reports of a Kaepernick-centric schism in the 2015 49ers locker room are given credence in NFL front offices, the protest factor drops yet another notch.

What does the game film show?

It would be disingenuous to take the position that Kaepernick is not a uniquely talented quarterback. He's an incredibly gifted athlete with Superhero-like physical attributes that infamously led ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski to predict all-time greatness in the halcyon days of the 2013 read-option craze.

A cannon arm should grant Kaepernick the ability to make all of the NFL throws. With each passing season, though, it becomes more and more obvious that Kaepernick is a limited passer lacking the requisite touch, accuracy, anticipation and situational awareness of a franchise quarterback. By Thanksgiving of last season, all throws to wide receivers outside the numbers and downfield had vanished from the 49ers offense -- an ostensible concession from then-coach Chip Kelly that Kaepernick simply can't make those all-important throws with any degree of consistency.

As impressive as Kaepernick's 16:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio might seem without context, it reflects a remedial signal-caller being asked to make the simplest reads and easiest throws. A quintessential "see-it, throw-it" passer, Kaepernick waits for his targets to separate from coverage rather than anticipating the route and throwing his receivers open. As a natural byproduct of that playing style, third downs devolved into a wasteland of drive-killing sacks and ineffectual passes short of the sticks.

Over the past three years, Kaepernick has ranked 30th, 34th and 29th in Football Outsiders' passing efficiency metrics -- and just fractionally better in Gregg Rosenthal's QB Index.

Beyond the passing problems, Kaepernick comes with a red flag unshared by any other established quarterback: He has yet to prove he can succeed outside the cozy confines of the zone-read attack, a gimmick offense in need of a committed champion now that Kelly is out of the league.

The bloom came off the rose in 2014. As defenses began to stifle the zone read and the 49ers grew concerned about the investment risk of a running quarterback, Jim Harbaugh's staff initiated a staunch commitment toward developing Kaepernick as a pocket passer. The transition was predictably fraught with growing pains, as a confused Kaepernick struggled with pre- and post-snap reads en route to a franchise-record 52 sacks.

Any realistic chance at a true metamorphosis withered on the vine as Harbaugh escaped to Michigan and the 49ers descended into ineptitude with an overmatched coaching staff and a depleted roster. As Rosenthal pointed out in his 2015 film study, the post-Harbaugh staff built an offense around Kaepernick's limitations, showing no confidence in his passing ability and field vision after a string of early-season struggles.

"When he was good, he had a good team around him," NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly recently explained. "They could run the ball, they could block for him, they could pass-protect, they had an outstanding defense and people couldn't defend the read option.

"People defended the read option, the offensive line fell apart, the defensive line fell apart, and they couldn't run the ball. He had problems reading defenses ... he had problems with his accuracy. It became more [pronounced] when he had to become a pure dropback quarterback and the game depended more on him than it did [when he was a first-year starter in 2012]. That's what teams saw. That's what teams have said to me. And that's what I see, too."

When Kelly arrived on the scene in January of 2016, he was widely hailed as Kap's personal savior, bound to induce nightmares in opposing defensive coordinators. Provided a custom-made offense tailored to amplify his strengths and hide his weaknesses, Kaepernick mixed occasional flashes of 2012-era brilliance with much longer stretches of ineffectiveness in a 2-14 season.

Now that Kelly and his zone-read attack have been banished from the NFL, teams are understandably skeptical that a quarterback riddled with deficiencies as a passer can refashion himself to operate within the structure of the pocket.

"If I'm a dropback team, this guy is just a guy to me," Casserly added. "Yeah, we can bring him in, he's another arm, we'll work with him. But I don't see a solution in this guy as a quarterback to be a starter in the National Football League from most of his tape."

Scouts and executives are charged with evaluating the game, not the name. The dysfunctional 49ers teams have won just four of Kaepernick's last 24 starts. The last time he exhibited sustained success, Dak Prescott was a sophomore at Mississippi State and Peyton Manning was a legitimate MVP candidate.

No one should be surprised that Kaepernick has been met with tumbleweeds after opting out of his San Francisco contract. He began his protest on the 49ers' bench, taking a backseat to a notable draft bust under center. The 32 NFL teams told us what they thought of his potential before his protest when they left him languishing on the trade block for the entirety of last offseason.

Can pro football's leadership stand to learn a thing or two from the NBA's voices in the wilderness, bringing much-needed awareness to social issues? Absolutely. Are there NFL teams reluctant to sign Kaepernick because the drawbacks outweigh the potential benefits? No doubt.

But suggesting that all 32 teams are a monolithic monster holding the same venomous viewpoint on Kaepernick's potential as well as his politics is just another reflection of an agenda.

Contrary to our soundbite-shallow sports climate, one can appreciate the importance of the man's activism while acknowledging the salient football fact that he's an uninspiring quarterback.

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