If the 2019 NFL season taught us anything, it’s that there are a lot of teams who have neglected the backup quarterback position. The teams that sufficiently addressed it (Kansas City, Tennessee) weathered the storm when their starter was ineffective or hurt. Meanwhile, teams that clearly had no real succession plan (Detroit, New York Jets) saw their seasons unravel with sudden, er, absences at the position. Does mononucleosis count as an injury?
Finding a backup quarterback is important and there aren’t many players more qualified for the job than Colin Kaepernick. With the NFL admitting it mishandled the national anthem protests in 2016 and commissioner Roger Goodell even going as far as encouraging teams to sign Kaepernick, the door finally seems to be for the former 49ers quarterback to return to the league. Sure, he has been out of the league for a few years, but Kaepernick has the experience and talent to be a spot starter.
Don’t believe me? Let’s compare Kapernick to the league’s average backup quarterback. I compiled every backup quarterback’s stats into this Google Sheet.
On average, the NFL backup completes around 61.1 percent of his passes and averages roughly 6.95 yards per attempt. Additionally, they throw a touchdown on 3.8 percent of their throws while 2.7 percent of their attempts result in an interception. The average backup also has a career winning percentage of 46 percent in the regular season. These numbers look much worse if you remove some of the long-time former starters currently in backup roles like Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub.
Kaepernick by comparison completed 59.8 percent of his passes for an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. He threw a touchdown on 4.3 percent of his passes and an interception on just 1.8 percent of them. His career regular season win percentage sits at 48 percent. Additionally, Kaepernick has playoff experience, including a Super Bowl appearance. Flacco and Nick Foles are the only current backup quarterbacks who have started a Super Bowl.
The biggest knock anyone could possibly have on Kaepernick is his ability to hold onto the ball. He averaged almost eight fumbles per season over his five years as a mostly full-time starter.
If you want to put a label on what Kaepernick represents to the NFL right now in terms of position value, it is a high-end backup. Those averages, which he mostly matches or beats, don’t factor in his running ability either. His mobility is a plus for any team evaluating him.
Without a doubt, Kap could still cut it in the NFL. Let me make this clear though. I don’t think Kaepernick has what it takes to be a starter in this league anymore. He is 32 and has some mechanical flaws he is not going to fix now. However, he is still good enough to win a game if his number is called. From his workout in 2019, he clearly still has the arm strength and the zip on his throws to make plays. Kaepernick should be no team’s first option, but there are much worse plan B’s. Here are the eight teams that should consider signing Kaepernick for the 2020 season.
With Drew Lock sufficiently entrenched as the starter for the Broncos, this could be an ideal situation for Kaepernick to work his way back into the league. Denver’s current quarterback room outside of Lock includes Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and Neal Riley. Driskel is far from a reliable backup having struggled in stints filling in for Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford over the past two seasons. He is 1-7 as a starter and has completed under 60 percent of his passes in his career. It helps that Denver’s current running backs coach Curtis Modkins was the 49ers offensive coordinator during Kaepernick’s final season in San Francisco.
Few teams had a better quarterback situation last year than the Titans. When Marcus Mariota proved to be ineffective as the starter, Ryan Tannehill came in and worked wonders all the way to the AFC Championship game. With Mariota now in Las Vegas, Tennessee is left with Logan Woodside and undrafted rookie Cole McDonald on the roster. Neither one of them has attempted an NFL pass. The front office made a wise move last year to find a stable backup plan. Kaepernick would give the Titans the same assurances that Tannehill provided for them last year.
Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the future in Cincinnati, but with Andy Dalton now in Dallas, the solution to a Burrow injury is unclear. Ryan Finley tanked in two appearances last season. Jake Dolegala is a fellow second year player who did attempt a pass last season. If Burrow were to go down, there is no one reliable to step in for the Bengals at quarterback. My biggest hang up with Kaepernick joining Cincinnati is I think they need someone who can start this season to ease Burrow into the NFL. I’m not sure Kaepernick quite fits the bill after so much time off.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have clearly latched their wagon to the Jarrett Stidham train. I’m not sold on him as the long term answer after only four career passes, but the rest of the quarterback situation in New England is nothing to trust either. Brian Hoyer is back for another stint, but the Pats actually cut Hoyer last season after the preseason, and he struggled in relief of Jacoby Brissett after signing with the Colts. New England’s other two options at the position are Brian Lewerke and J’Mar Smith, two undrafted free agents from the 2020 class. Rumor has it the team is interested Cam Newton, but Kaepernick could also make a ton of sense.
No one will be replacing Kyler Murray any time soon. However, when you have a mobile quarterback, particularly one with as slight of a build as Murray, there is always the risk of an injury arising. Arizona’s current backup plan is Brett Hundley. He has more interceptions than touchdowns in his career and a completion percentage south of 60. The only other options on the roster include Drew Anderson and Chris Streveler, both of whom have never attempted an NFL pass. Kaepernick has a similar play style to Murray, even if he cannot replicate the level of production. I could see him being a good fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s modified Air Raid system.
Los Angeles Rams
Who is currently backing up Jared Goff? John Wolford, Bryce Perkins and Josh Love are all undrafted free agents L.A. signed over the past two years. None of them have taken an NFL snap. Goff might be one of the least sacked quarterbacks in the league, but the Rams certainly need a better replacement plan if he were to get hurt. Kaepernick might not be the most seamless fit in the Rams system given his struggles as a play-action passer, but I trust Sean McVay to find some creative uses for his arm and legs. Even four years removed from football, he would provide a much more reliable solution if Goff were to suffer an injury.
Don’t even begin to argue with me that Kaepernick would not be an upgrade over Geno Smith as a backup quarterback. As a Jets fan, I watched him struggle wildly to perform on a consistent basis and regularly commit back-breaking errors in important moments. Luckily for Seattle, Russell Wilson is one of the most durable quarterbacks in the league. Still, finding a better replacement than Smith would be smart. Pete Carroll has been open in his support of Kaepernick, admitting he regrets not signing him previously. The team met with Kap prior to the 2017 season. His ability to extend plays with his legs is not on the same level as Wilson, but he could help Seattle avoid a massive fall off if Wilson were to go down injured.
This last one is less about the team’s need at the position and more about the offensive scheme. Baltimore has the league’s reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson. Though Jackson has proven to be durable and smart about avoiding unnecessary hits, they have a clear backup plan in Robert Griffin III. They even have two young, dual-threat college quarterbacks on the roster behind RGIII. Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley are definitely both project players, but this has the feel of a very sound quarterback room. However, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers while Kaepernick dazzled the football world with two deep playoff runs. I’m not saying Roman would be able rekindle that kind of magic, but given what Jackson has been able to do in this system, I think Kaepernick could find some level of success in a backup role.