NFL Coaches’ Explanations For Not Signing Colin Kaepernick

Washington becomes the latest NFL team not to sign Kaepernick despite an obvious need at quarterback. How does head coach Jay Gruden’s reasoning stack up to other teams?
Publish date:

Washington is not signing Colin Kaepernick to compete with Mark Sanchez or replace the injured Colt McCoy, head coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday. Despite the team still having a 25% chance of reaching the postseason, according to data analysis site FiveThirtyEight, they have gone with journeyman Josh Johnson, who, until a few hours ago, was set for a gig headlining the Alliance of American Football.

“There’s not a lot of time to get a brand-new quarterback and system installed in a couple of days. He’s been talked about, but we’ll probably go in a different direction,” Gruden said of Kaepernick, adding that it was strictly a “football decision.”

“When you’re talking about a backup quarterback this late in the game you want someone with a similar skill set to the quarterback you have. Not that Colin can’t do some of the things we’ve talked about, but we want someone with a little more familiarity,” Gruden said. “Sanchez had experience in a pro-style offense. That helped out a lot. But when we had a short week going to Dallas [on Thanksgiving] you had to have someone in here who had some similar conceptual awareness that we had with Colt. That’s why we went with Sanchez.”

Despite the obvious holes one could poke in Gruden’s statement, he’s not really to blame. It’s another example of Washington making a football decision at the top floor and forcing other people to address it in front of the media.

But Gruden’s comments bring up an interesting thought: There have now been a handful of coaches who have had to legitimately defend not signing Kaepernick since 2016. Whether it was a damning in-season injury or gaping hole on the depth chart that was patched by a less-accomplished quarterback, there have been so many squirmy moments of head coaches forced to defend their teams’ decisions at the position since Kaepernick last played an NFL game. Here are the ones that we can best remember:

Former Titans coach Mike Mularkey, who signed Brandon Weeden to replace Marcus Mariota back in October 2017: “I’m not aware if there was [interest]. I know he’s not familiar with our offense. I know T.J. Yates had some experience with it in Atlanta and with us for a couple of weeks.

“As quickly as we could get somebody up to speed in a short amount of time, he had the advantage over everybody ... Formationally and schematically, it’s very similar.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh amid Joe Flacco’s nagging back injury in July 2017: “I believe he’s a really good person. It all depends on a lot of things. It depends on Colin first of all and what’s his passion, what's his priority, what’s he want to do, what kind of shape he’s in. So we’ll just see where it goes. I don’t think it’s different for us than any other team.”

Broncos general manager and president John Elway back when the Broncos needed QB depth in August 2018: “You know what, and I said this a while ago: Colin had his chance to be here. We offered him a contract. He didn’t take it,” Elway said. “As I said in my deposition ... he’s had his chance to be here. He passed it.”

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson after Carson Wentz’s season ending torn ACL in December 2017: “Probably the biggest reason is the time invested,” he said. “If you bring in a guy off the street this late in the season, you’re talking about spending time with that player trying to get him just caught up to speed on our offense.

“We’ve already spent the time with Nate [Sudfeld]. We’ve developed him and worked with him. So that’s probably the biggest reason right there.”

Former Packers head coach Mike McCarthyafter Aaron Rodgers’s broken collarbone in October 2017: “Did you just listen to that question I just answered? I got three years invested in Brett Hundley. Two years invested in Joe Callahan. The quarterback room is exactly where it needs to be. O.K.? We’re fortunate to have a great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. We’re committed to the path that we’re on. We need to play better as a football team.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll after having Kaepernick in for a visit in July 2017: “[Colin] is a starter in this league. We have a starter, but he is a starter in this league, and I can’t imagine somebody won’t give him a chance to play.”

Jaguars executive vice president Tom Coughlin after roster cut downs on Sept. 2, 2017: “We did the study, the research, and we weren’t interested.”

He added: “No, I’m not explaining it. I just said what it is.”

Former Cardinals head coach Bruce Ariansafter Carson Palmer broke his arm in October 2017: “We’ve never had more than two on our roster since I’ve been here. We liked Blaine Gabbert so much that we kept him this year. So, we’re really where we always are. We may look for a practice squad arm.” (That statement was false).

So what did we learn? Coaches like their backups, even if they trade or cut them a few months later. Coaches don’t think it’s possible for a quarterback to learn an offense on short notice until they do it with someone else. They prefer quarterbacks with knowledge of “the system,” even if that system has to change for the backup anyway.

While I understand (but don’t necessarily agree with) the charged commentary surrounding Kaepernick, I wonder how ridiculous this is going to look five years from now when these teams look back at the rosters they left floating in the hands of incapable backups (or starters!). No, Kaepernick is not Drew Brees and would not have automatically guaranteed wins, but it’s extremely difficult to argue that he was markedly worse than QBs like Weeden, Sudfeld, Drew Stanton, Blake Bortles, Austin Davis, Dustin Vaughn or Thaddeus Lewis.

Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet?Sign up for The MMQB’s Morning Huddle.

Image placeholder title


Now on The MMQB: POWER RANKINGS. … Jonathan Jones on why Nick Saban is the right choice for the Green Bay Packers. … Jenny Vrentas on why Josh McDaniels will still be a hot candidate, and why Mike McCarthy is right behind him.

What you may have missed: Is it time to talk Super Bowl for Deshaun Watson and the Texans? ... Why Kareem Hunt’s ESPN interview was too soon, and too shallow to resonate. … Even in victory, Odell Beckham can’t escape criticism.

Image placeholder title


1. Former first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin has been released just months after refusing to play catch with Josh Allen.

2. The umpire who Bills defender Jerry Hughes went after last week has been placed on leave.

3. Bruce Arians wants the Browns job, but not the Packers gig.

4. The Buccaneers are giving away tickets to games, but it’s still not bringing in fans.

5. James Conner is out for this weekend’s game with an ankle injury.

6. Aaron Rodgers is O.K. with sitting out the Packers’ coaching search process (... he is definitely not sitting this out).

7. Today in non-football news: Rebellious honey bees lay eggs outside the presence of their queen.

Image placeholder title


Starting this week, I'm going to do a series of three questions-style interviews with fellow staffers at The MMQB. Today’s participant is senior writer Robert Klemko:

Conor Orr: Who is an obscure athlete from your youth who meant a great deal to you, but probably does not register in the least to normal fans?

Robert Klemko: The Oakland Raiders had a linebacker named Greg Biekert from 1993 to 2001, and he was just a classic under-appreciated linebacker from that era. He was never going to knock anybody out or make a big interception or force a fumble, but he was always in the right place at the right time and never got juked out of his shoes or run over. He was just solid. I got the sense that he wasn’t the fastest or the strongest but he knew the game better than anybody else on the field, and he was hard-nosed to the extent that he was going to sacrifice everything before he ever got ran over. His shining moment would’ve been in the 2001 divisional playoffs when he recovered the fumble stripped from Tom Brady by Charles Woodson that would’ve sent the Raiders to the AFC championship if not for the vast league conspiracy to anoint the Patriots and ruin Al Davis (payback for his lawsuits against the league and refusal to join the owners’ boys club). It was a fumble.

CO: What is the most meaningful piece of music to you, and why?

RK: My college friends and I all saw Armageddon at a time in our lives when we were really impressionable, enamored with space travel, and in sincere appreciation of Ben Affleck‘s acting skills. It was a strange time. When we came together in college we realized it was our favorite movie as a group, and occasionally when we would party as a group we’d watch the movie and break out into song when “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” came on. Later on, when guys in the group started getting married, we spontaneously started this tradition where we all circle the bride and groom and serenade her with our best Steven Tyler rendition. It’s magical.

CO: What is the best meal you’ve ever had?

RK: Blue crabs, steamed, caked in Old Bay seasoning, with hush puppies with honey on the side and a strawberry daiquiri, the way they do it at Sea Breeze Restaurant at the waterside in Mechanicsville, Md.

CO: Thank you for your time.

RK: It was my pleasure, Conor. You have a real knack for interviewing people.

CO: Thanks, Robert.

Question or comment? Email us at