Tony Dungy has no doubt that Colin Kaepernick would be on an NFL roster right now even after all the controversy he created last season by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the United States. There’s only one condition he’d need to meet.
“You’re always going to say, ‘Is the value of this player enough to offset the criticism that I get if I bring him on board?’ ” the Hall of Fame coach said recently in an interview with Newsday. “What [teams are] looking at is a backup quarterback. Is it worth the criticism? People have said no. I think right now, people don’t see him as a starting quarterback.”
Dungy, who retired after the 2008 season and was voted into the Hall of Fame in January 2016, said that if he still were coaching, he would have at least investigated the possibility of signing Kaepernick. It doesn’t mean he would have signed him, though.
“I think I’d evaluate it and see where he is talent-wise and talk to him and where he is and his desire to play,” said Dungy, now an NFL analyst for NBC. “I think he’s still a special weapon in the right system.”
In the end, however, Dungy believes it’s the risk-reward quotient that is working against Kaepernick, that teams are not willing to take a risk on a player who is not considered a bona fide NFL starter.
Kaepernick, 29, opted out of his contract with the 49ers in March, making him an unrestricted free agent. He has yet to find a team willing to take a chance on his talent, something Dungy believes is a direct function of the reaction to Kaepernick’s polarizing protests.
Kaepernick, who sat for the anthem before preseason games and later decided to kneel, indicated through his agent earlier this year that he does not plan to protest during the anthem if he joins another team this season.
“Without that national anthem [protest], someone would have signed him by now,” Dungy said. “If you’re seen as a distraction off the field, for whatever reason, you better have a lot of talent going for you. People will overlook it. They always sign talent if they think he’s going to upgrade your team.”
Dungy pointed to the Eagles’ decision to sign quarterback Michael Vick in 2009 after he served 21 months in federal prison for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting operation, and the Bengals’ drafting of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon in the second round this year. Mixon was suspended for the 2014 season after punching a woman in the face at a café in Norman, Oklahoma, on July 25, 2014.
“Michael Vick went through a lot of that and had some teams say no [to signing him],” Dungy said. “Andy Reid was the one coach who said, ‘Hey, we’ll do it. We think enough of him as a player, and we know we’re going to take some criticism.’ With Joe Mixon, you had the same thing. That’s what happens.”
Dungy suggested that Kaepernick would have an opportunity to sign if his protests during the anthem had occurred earlier in his career.
“If this whole thing had happened three years ago, right after a Super Bowl and he was still starting, and [Ron Jaworski] was saying he was going to be the best quarterback ever, he would have been signed,” Dungy said. “Coming off that Super Bowl, he’s a guy with lights-out dynamic talent.”
But Kaepernick’s career took a steep dive after he led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII against the Ravens after the 2012 season. After going 20-12 in his next two seasons under Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick went a combined 3-16 in 2015-2016 and was benched twice last season by coach Chip Kelly, who was fired after one season. His 2016 statistics were solid, however: 16 touchdown passes, four interceptions, a 90.7 quarterback rating.
What can Kaepernick do to find a job? “I don’t know what he can do at this point,” Dungy said. “He’s pretty much told people he wants to play. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything negative with his work habits. I don’t know what he can do to show people that he’s just going to be a quarterback and play.
“I think [teams] are concerned about the political side of things, and I think if people saw him as a starting quarterback, someone would sign him. But I think right now, people don’t see him as a starting quarterback.”