Why Colin Kaepernick is better off not signing with Texans
Replacing rookie Deshaun Watson in the middle of the season would not benefit the free-agent QB
The moment news broke that Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson tore the ACL in his right knee during practice on Thursday, attention quickly turned to Colin Kaepernick.
Watson, who threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns (tied for most in the league) in seven games this season, was barely checked into the hospital before fans were clamoring for the Texans to replace their rookie sensation with the free-agent Kaepernick.
Houston, for the moment, will start fourth-year quarterback Tom Savage, who was benched after just one half and 13 pass attempts during Week 1 of the season. In seven career games, Savage has completed 60 percent of his passes for 650 yards and has yet to throw a touchdown. Within hours of Watson’s injury, the Texans were to sign former Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin, who was most recently released by the Philadelphia Eagles in September. (Update: On Friday morning, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported that Houston also plans to sign former Texans quarterback T.J. Yates.)
No matter one’s opinion on Kaepernick’s political stances, the 30-year-old is clearly a better option than Savage and McGloin, who were not capable of winning positional battles with Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor Sr., Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brock Osweiler over the past four seasons.
Kaepernick is the ideal player to succeed Watson, a dual-threat quarterback with a strong arm, buoyed by a strong defense (eighth in defensive defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA)) and play-making receivers (DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V). And even at 3-4, the Texans are just one game out of first place in the quarterback-depleted AFC South. So, for all intents and purposes, Kaepernick, a former Super Bowl starter, would put the Texans in the best position for the remaining nine weeks of the season to win the division and make the playoffs.
But bringing in Kaepernick in the middle of the season isn’t that simple. For multiple reasons.
For one, based on his “inmates” comments that were reported last week, Texans owner Bob McNair has no desire to sign the man who ignited a firestorm last season by kneeling during the national anthem, an issue McNair claims is harming his business in Texas. Much like owners of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts, McNair’s comments about player protests – and other alleged remarks the owner has made in the past – lead one to believe he wants nothing to do with Kaepernick, no matter who he would have to start in his place. There have been reports of McNair showing some form of “contrition” for his comments by signing off on the team trying out the embattled quarterback, but those rumors were immediately shot down.
The Texans have one of the worst offensive lines in the league, surrendering 10 sacks during Week 1 against the Jaguars and overall the third-most sacks (26) the first eight weeks of the season. Watson had to be superhuman for Houston despite the poor protection, throwing for 16 touchdowns the past four games despite constantly being under pressure. Kaepernick struggled behind a poor offensive line last season in San Francisco as well, one of many reasons the 49ers finished 2-14. And while Kaepernick was assisted by a stalwart defense his first few years in the league, the Texans defense is allowing the fourth-most points per game and missing All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt, linebacker Whitney Mercilus and defensive end Christian Covington.
There’s precedence for quarterbacks being brought in at the last minute and immediately being inserted into the offense. Neither the quarterbacks nor the teams have fared all that well.
Jacoby Brissett, traded from the New England Patriots to the Colts just two weeks before the 2017 season, started his first game in Week 2 and has led the Colts to a 2-6 record with a 36.2 QBR, ranked 25th of 32 eligible passers. Jay Cutler signed with the Miami Dolphins in August, and while Miami is 4-2 in games Cutler has started, he’s averaging an anemic 5.5 yards per attempt, the third-lowest rate in the league, and managed just 25 points the first three weeks, six of which were a garbage-time touchdown against the Jets in Week 2 to avoid a shutout. The Minnesota Vikings started 5-0 after acquiring Sam Bradford seven days before Week 1 of the 2016 season, but the offense ended up one of the lowest-rated units in the league (just 20.4 points per game despite Bradford breaking the all-time completion percentage record) and finished 8-8 behind a defense ranked ninth in DVOA. The most notorious example of a last-minute quarterback acquisition was the same Vikings signing Josh Freeman during the team’s bye week of the 2013 season. In his lone start for Minnesota, Freeman completed just 37.7 percent of his 53 passes for zero touchdowns and an interception. Freeman wouldn’t play another NFL down until two seasons later, when he signed and started for the Colts in the same week, struggling in his lone appearance.
So while Kaepernick may be the best option for a Texans team that is still in contention in its division and has the supporting cast to make a playoff push, it’s not necessarily the right option. Outside of dealing with an owner, and fan base, who would likely be highly critical of him, Kaepernick would have to balance learning a new offense in a limited time period with playing in the shadow of a beloved rookie who gave an entire city playoff hopes. In theory, for Kaepernick to succeed in Houston, he would need to go undefeated with zero interceptions and a perfect passer rating the remaining nine games, an almost impossible task.
Anything short of that would be a failure.