Week Under Review: Kaepernick would disappoint Broncos fans
Get all of Melissa Jacobs's columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
Welcome to “Week Under Review,” where we discuss compelling storylines from the past week, introduce new ideas, throw in an important listicle and try not to put you to sleep on a lazy Sunday.
Let’s begin somewhere between John Elway’s house in Colorado and the 49ers’ headquarters in Santa Clara…
According to reports, beleaguered 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick could be headed to Denver, if the latest talks between the 49ers and Broncos pan out. Kaepernick and Elway have reportedly met twice, the last time on Thursday at Elway’s house in Englewood, Co. Given that Denver has only $1.6 million in available cap space, the Broncos are too many twists and turns away from being able to afford Kaepernick’s current hit of $15.9 million ($11.9 of which is his base salary that became guaranteed on April 1). But if you’re Elway, you don’t invite another team’s quarterback into your home unless you intend to get a deal done.
Let’s assume Kaepernick agrees to some form of pay cut or restructured contract and becomes the next man up in a short, but fascinating line of quarterbacks during Elway’s reign as Broncos general manager. Given the current options to replace Peyton Manning are Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian from Northwestern or drafting a “non-NFL ready” quarterback later this month, Kaepernick seems to be the clear solution. But the risks synonymous with the current iteration of Kaepernick far outweigh the mesmerizing human highlight reel who led the 49ers to a Super Bowl berth in 2012. To put it simply, prepare to be disappointed, Broncos fans.
Of course we all remember the Kaepernick who was so spectacular coming off the bench in 2012 for a concussed Alex Smith that Smith instantly lost his job and was eventually shipped out of San Francisco. Kaepernick perfected the read option that year, often transforming into a gazelle with cheetah-like speed in the open field, while just as easily slinging the ball deep downfield with precision. His skill set was so fresh, new and multi-faceted, it seemed clear he’d get back to the Super Bowl. The endorsements came rolling in that off-season and with it Kaepernick’s swagger seemingly grew.
Perhaps he became too famous too fast.
After the 2014 season, defenses had long caught on to the read option, the 49ers had a wildly inconsistent playbook under then-offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and Kaepernick’s interceptions were up while his touchdowns dropped. So the QB went to work with Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner. All intentions seemed right and the ceiling that had dropped seemed as if it could be raised back high above the rafters. But last year, Kaepernick’s footwork was more atrocious than ever and his inability to complete a read progression even more shocking. The lowest of the low came in Week 4 against Arizona. Kaepernick ended that game with no touchdowns, four interceptions, a 16.7 passer rating and the stigma as one of the NFL’s most regressed quarterbacks in recent history. When Kaepernick was finally demoted to Blaine Gabbert’s backup before Week 9, he truly deserved to be Blaine Gabbert’s backup. Imagine that.
His off-field woes may be even more of a red flag. Reports surfaced that Kaepernick had alienated teammates with his aloof attitude. One source close to the 49ers tells me that Kaepernick “lost the entire team” last year and that “teammates ignored him.” For a sport piled with egos upon egos, it takes more than an unfavorable attitude for such a dramatic en masse reaction. I wonder what former 49ers tight end Vernon Davis told his new teammates in Denver about Kaepernick after being traded last season.
There was also some drama surrounding the radio personality named Nessa, who was the girlfriend of former 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith before she became Kaepernick’s girlfriend. Or maybe it was concurrent. TMZ reported that Smith, while still a member of the 49ers, and Kaepernick, got into an altercation over Nessa last July. This may seem like silly and salacious stuff but these are the events that tear a locker room apart (See: D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young).
Add in Kaepernick’s three recent surgeries—one in November for an extensive labrum tear in his non-throwing shoulder that came with a six month recovery period, plus procedures on a thumb and left knee in January—and there’s no guarantee he emerges as the same physical specimen he once was.
Elway is a risk taker with a propensity for quick fixes. Kaepernick could very well be revived in Denver and run those Gary Kubiak bootlegs to perfection this season. Or bringing him into the fold could be a mistake on a lot of levels. I don’t think he’s worth the risk. After all, the Broncos have a Super Bowl to defend...and what could go wrong with Mark Sanchez?
In other news that might teleport you to a dark, seedy hallway in 2008 or 2010: US Weekly reports that Ben Roethlisberger (among other Steelers greats) has taped a cameo for the upcoming season of The Bachelorette. Apparently Roethlisberger is part of a group date that involves Aaron Rodgers’s brother, Jordan, vying for the love of the Bachelorette JoJo Fletcher.
Never mind the absurdity of having Jordan Rodgers, a former NFL player, partake in a group date where the men are presumably to be judged on their ability to play football, but was Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss living under a rock in the late aughts when Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault … twice?
Roethlisberger has been incredibly lucky that a confluence of events has worked in his favor to largely repair his image. Most notably, his 2008 rape accusation (ended in a settlement) and his 2010 sexual assault accusation by an underage student in Milledgeville, Georgia (resulted in no prosecution), occurred in a pre-Ray Rice Era. Roger Goodell did suspend Roethlisberger for six games after the ’10 incident but reduced it to four games after Roethlisberger stayed out of bars for five months. (On another note, the four-game suspension is definitely Goodell’s sweet spot.)
Other factors at work in the rehab of Roethlisberger’s public image: He’s a quarterback. He’s won Super Bowl rings. He’s stayed out of trouble since. He’s a perennially good fantasy football value. And if we’re being honest, he’s white.
But if Roethlisberger wants to keep his former life in the past, he should be smart enough to forever ban himself from any dating show. We’ll see if he comes out of The Bachelorette appearance unscathed.
Party of Five
In honor of that March Madness thing I keep hearing about, here's a list of my all-time favorite NFL players to have come out of Villanova and North Carolina.
1. Lawrence Taylor* (UNC, ’77-81): *The use of the word "favorite" in this particular case is limited strictly to the football field...he has an absolutely horrific personal life, but is arguably the greatest defender to play the game.
2. Howie Long (Villanova, ’77-’80): Pro Football Hall of Famer; least annoying pregame analyst on Fox; recently donated $1 million to his alma mater.
3. Julius Peppers (UNC ’98-’01): Three-time first-team All-Pro; Most sacks in Panthers history; after walking on, played basketball at UNC for his first two years and scored 21 points in a second-round tournament loss in ’01; general badass.
4. Brian Westbrook (Villanova, ’97-’01): Twice a first-team All-Pro; Has been an active, endearing super ‘Nova fan during this run; Helped me win my PPR league in 2007.
5. Al Goldstein (UNC ’57-’59): Only played in 14 games in one season in the league, but he was a Jewish football player and I love oxymorons.