San Francisco 49ers

Why ‘system-fit’ explanation for Kaepernick’s unemployment is flawed

During a conference call Wednesday, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was asked if he thought Colin Kaepernick's employment status might change after the league-wide anthem protests that occurred during Week 3.

Said Arians: "I hope … you know, I think in the right system he's still a heck of a player. And, you know, I don't really like talking about guys who are not on my team."

The 'system-fit' argument for why a specific team hasn't signed Kaepernick has been used many times before. The 49ers, for example, had no plan to retain Kaepernick this season, and in July Kyle Shanahan gave a lengthy explanation why.

“I thought with Colin and any quarterback situation it was, 'Where do you want to go with your scheme, where do you want to go with your roster?'" Shanahan said. "I looked at it solely into where I wanted to go with the offensive scheme. I think Colin’s had a lot of success in this league and I think he still can have success, but you’ve got to commit to a certain type of scheme that gives him the best chance to succeed. I think when we knew we didn’t want to fully bring him in as the starter, I thought it was a big commitment to make for a guy that I wasn’t sure was going to be the starter and that’s really more what you look at.

Shanahan continued: "People say, ‘Why don’t you just do what a guy is good at when he comes in?’ Well, the guy is only good if you’ve been practicing the other 10 guys on offense at that, too. That’s something that makes it very hard when all your quarterbacks need a little bit different scheme to be successful. It doesn’t allow your o-line to be consistent at what they’re working at and things like that."

Arians likely would make a similar argument if he was so inclined. The Cardinals' starter, Carson Palmer, is very much a pocket quarterback, who likes to throw deep and who doesn't like to run. (The longest run of Palmer's career, 16 yards, came last year against San Francisco's lousy run defense).

However, the question then becomes, 'Ok, so why did the Cardinals sign Blaine Gabbert as a backup in the offseason?' Like Kaepernick, Gabbert is not known for his pocket prowess. Indeed, the reason why the 49ers traded for Gabbert before the 2014 season was that his skills and strengths were so similar to Kaepernick's. The 49ers wanted to have a backup that -- as Shanahan explained above -- would allow offensive continuity if that backup had to take over the offense.

All of which is to say that the 'system fit' argument for why Kaepernick remains a free agent is flawed if similarly skilled and less talented quarterbacks have roster spots and Kaepernick does not.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at