A little over three years ago, the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in the NFC Championship, a game that instantly went down as one of the best ever. Though there were more than a few memorable moments, the obvious choice for an image to be framed in Canton is this one:
Colin Kaepernick’s end zone throw for a chance to tie the game with a PAT coming is deflected by Richard Sherman and intercepted by Malcolm Smith. The Seahawks went to the Super Bowl, the 49ers began their death spiral into obscurity. If Kaepernick makes a better throw, or doesn’t go to Michael Crabtree at all and looks for a different receiver or scrambles and lives to fight another play, then who knows what the future of these two franchises looks like.
But that’s not what happened.
Though Seattle still has seven starters from that game remaining, San Francisco will officially be down to bare bones once Kaepernick opts out of his deal, assuming he does. There’s still a chance that new GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will come to an agreement on Kaepernick and allow him the chance to win the starting job in 2017, but either way we already know that he’s not regarded as the player he was on January 19, 2014. If Kaepernick escapes the Bay, he’ll have more than a few options at his disposal.
He could go to the Cleveland Browns, where head coach Hue Jackson has been singing his praises since Kaepernick was playing at the University of Nevada. This is his most likely chance to win a starting job next season, but also his most likely path to a 2-14 record and potentially ending his career. Consider the post-Browns careers of QBs like Jeff Garcia (also a SF-to-CLE transplant), Derek Anderson, Colt McCoy, Jason Campbell, RGIII (soon), and so many more. You go to Cleveland to get a chance to start, but that’s also where so many careers end. It’s where I believe Kaepernick will end up, but there are other options.
Kaepernick could enter QB competitions with the NY Jets, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, or perhaps the Buffalo Bills, but he wouldn’t be guaranteed of anything and the risk losing a QB competition to Brock Osweiler could be too much for any career to withstand. He could also go back up an aging vet like Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, or Carson Palmer, but those systems don’t come close to utilizing Kaepernick’s best (and maybe only) asset, which is his legs. There are places that do make sense for that, namely the Kansas City Chiefs, who are supposedly tired of Alex Smith, and who’d clearly be in the market for Smith’s younger, dual-threat, former backup.
But are they going to release/trade Smith or are they actually going to put us in unheard of version 2.0 of a QB competition from five years ago?
No I think that one of the most interesting, and perhaps most logical destination for Kaepernick is right where he was on January 19, 2014 when he threw arguably the most famous pass of his career: Seattle.
Here are some things Kaepernick could gain from being the backup quarterback for the Seahawks.
A full season with no pressure or expectation to start or even play in a game
Kaepernick turns 30 in November, which for quarterbacks can often be just the beginning. Consider that Matt Ryan is 31 and he really just had a season unlike anything he had ever had before. There’s still an opportunity for Kaepernick to take a year or two of doing nothing before returning into the spotlight for a chance at a huge deal. Michael Vick similarly re-jumped his career at 30 and got a huge contract at 31. Going to a bad situation to start could be riskier than going to a good team and having no opportunity to start.
An excellent system to play in with myriad good weapons at his disposal
Should Kaepernick be forced into a game, he’ll be doing so with an offense that up until the injuries to Russell Wilson and Thomas Rawls last season, was among the best in the NFL in DVOA and consistently top-5 in the league in rushing. Kaepernick’s rushing abilities may not be better utilized anywhere in the NFL than they would be in Seattle. Perhaps the Bills, based on how much they change their offense for next season, but Buffalo does not have Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham. I have no expectations for what type of player Sammy Watkins will be next season or how many games he’ll actually be active for and with a healthy Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson, I think there’s no competition for the better offense even when you include LeSean McCoy for the Bills. I believe that if Wilson and Rawls are healthy, along with Baldwin and Graham, that alone is enough for a top-10 offense, if not top-5. What other team in the NFL will have that to go along with a zone-read, piston-optional offense, besides maybe the Dallas Cowboys?
A chance to learn from Pete Carroll
Call me biased (as you should), I think every football player in the world would benefit greatly from this. Non-football players as well. Kaepernick should be going somewhere that has coaches who will be giving him advice that will benefit him not just in 2017 but in 2018 and beyond. All due respect to Hue Jackson, Andy Reid, Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles, Kyle Shanahan, and so on, unless you’re telling me the other option is Bill Belichick, there is no greater mind in football, and perhaps no greater motivator period.
A chance to learn from Russell Wilson
Finally an opportunity for him to learn from the best quarterback he could possibly learn from. Sure, Wilson is younger than him. And sure, people actually thought that Kaepernick was better than Wilson as recently as a couple years ago, but now is the time for Kaepernick and all of Niners nation to admit that Wilson has a lot to teach to Kaepernick.
A chance to redeem himself from “The Tip” and join the one team he’s always been awful against
Kaepernick is 4-3 against Arizona, 6-3-1 against St. Louis/LA, and 2-7 against Seattle. He has thrown nine interceptions in those nine games. He can’t beat them. Can he join them?
Freedom of expression
I don’t think that Colin Kaepernick was oppressed during his 2016 acts of protest, San Francisco is a progressive city, but certainly Carroll runs a ship where he lets his players do what they want in regards to the media. Given the linking of arms, Baldwin’s active work in the community, and so on, I think that Kaepernick would be more than welcome in the Seahawks locker room despite the amount of bitter anger that existed between these two entities for the previous five seasons. All can be forgiven and forgotten.
If Kaepernick did sign with Seattle, he would be forgoing some immediate cash. The Seahawks aren’t going to give him more than a backup salary and they also don’t seem to have designs on replacing current backup Trevone Boykin. In this scenario where Kaepernick joined the fray, it would be a two-way battle to be Wilson’s backup, though in my opinion, Kaepernick does give significantly more insurance to the position than Boykin does at this point. I’m not even a big Kaepernick fan, but based on the little amount we saw him play last season, Boykin’s got a ways to go. Given Wilson’s many near-misses with injuries in 2016, more insurance at the position is probably necessary.
Kaepernick would also be forgoing an opportunity to start, but sometimes starting isn’t always the best option. I mean, look at Josh McCown, he’s been in the NFL 15 years and he’s not a starter and nobody seems to mind. He seems to be happy. Kaepernick doesn’t need to start for a bad team, he needs to decompress with a good team.
I don’t necessarily think Seattle should sign Kaepernick, or that Kaepernick should sign with Seattle, and we don’t even know yet if he’s going to become a free agent, but I do know that I wrote this article. And now the idea is in your head.