This is just getting weird. Pray for us? Pray for us? Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is actually urging fans to take a knee while team officials debate whether signing Colin Kaepernick is worth the time, money and hassle.
But at least someone finally confessed. Bisciotti and Ravens coach John Harbaugh put into words what many of their NFL colleagues are thinking.
They don’t want the political blowback, the locker room tension, the inevitable distraction that would accompany Kaepernick to Baltimore or anywhere else. Blackballed or lowballed – or perhaps both – he is paying dearly for his sins. You know? For sitting and kneeling during the national anthem. For wearing socks with images of pigs dressed as police officers. For his awkward and ill-informed analysis of the presidential election. For getting hurt and failing to reclaim his status as one of the league’s most dynamic performers.
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Terrible crimes, this kid committed. Unlike former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a 2000 stabbing incident that left two individuals dead, or tailback Ray Rice, who struck his then-fiancée in an elevator and dragged her into a hallway, Kaepernick became a social activist with a lousy sense of timing.
If league executives were confident that he once again could resemble the electrifying performer who drove the 49ers within five yards of a Super Bowl victory over these same Ravens in the 2012 season, this conversation would be moot. Kaepernick would be out of a job for, oh, maybe 60 seconds. Bisciotti, Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome would be begging for his signature and privately envisioning a duel with Joe Flacco for the starting position.
The only legitimate question – the only one that really matters – is this: Can Kaepernick still play?
Followed by this: Can his skills be incorporated into a particular offense?
In fairness to several NFL clubs, one size doesn’t fit all. First-year 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan offers an impassioned, detailed explanation of why he prefers quarterbacks who remain in the pocket, and only occasionally scramble, over more mobile quarterbacks who take off at the first sign of danger.
Yet it still seems ridiculous – and unfair – that only the Seattle Seahawks have auditioned Kaepernick. How is that even possible? The former Nevada standout is not worse than all the mediocre backups in the league, and with Joe Flacco out indefinitely and backup Ryan Mallet having a miserable camp, the Ravens very well could be the team that ignores the politics and extends a hand.
“In life, everything is linked,” Harbaugh said. “You have to check all the boxes before you can pull the trigger and do something. We’re in the process of doing that. There’s a reason Colin hasn’t signed yet, all those things, all the considerations and factors. There’s also a football fit kind of thing, too. When you start with, ‘How good of a football player is this?’ Absolutely, good enough football player to be here. That’s the one (Kaepernick) that most people talk about because it’s an intriguing story. I’m as anxious as everybody to see how it plays out.”
Kaepernick was a Cinderella story for a while. He filled in more than capably for the ailing incumbent Alex Smith, and with his size, arm strength and foot speed, appeared entrenched as the starter for years. As he matured, it was hoped, his accuracy and ability to read defenses would improve and he would be more patient in the pocket.
No one will ever really know how much of Kaepernick’s early success is owed to Jim Harbaugh’s coaching and Greg Roman’s offensive schemes, but the numbers suggest that it was considerable. Kaepernick went 3-16 as a starter in two miserable, injury-hampered seasons under departed 49ers coaches Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, respectively.
The more the 49ers lost, of course, the easier it was to blame Kaepernick for the organization-wide dysfunction, to argue that his emergence as a social activist meant that football was no longer a priority, that he was a distraction.
The sentiment in the locker room indicated otherwise. Even teammates who disagreed with his means of protest agreed with Kaepernick’s right to his own opinions. For the Ravens, the only truly disturbing off-field development – the one that should give pause – is the sight of Kaepernick on a practice field, wearing socks with images of pigs dressed as police officers.
While he explained that the message was directed at “rogue” officers and police brutality, the crude indictment of the authorities undoubtedly has alienated a significant segment of Ravens fans. This is Baltimore, remember. Race relations between cops and residents are uneasy, at best. At a fan forum Sunday, Bisciotti said he has heard from a contingent of season-ticket holders adamantly opposed to a Kaepernick signing and added that he is listening.
“I know that we’re going to upset some people,” the owner continued, “and I know that we’re going to make people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did. Nonviolent protesting is something that we have all embraced. Personally, I kind of liked it a lot when he went from sitting to kneeling (for anthem protest). I don’t know, I’m Catholic. We spend a lot of time kneeling.”
Kaepernick has said he will compromise, that he will save his protests for a different forum. But he shouldn’t compromise too much. He has his rights. Now, he just needs a job.