NASHVILLE — When general manager Jon Robinson constructed the 2019 Tennessee Titans, a premium was placed on depth at quarterback.
Ryan Tannehill was acquired via trade, rode the bench through the first six weeks and then came off the bench to save Tennessee’s season. The switch helped take the Titans to an AFC Title Game.
Tannehill re-signed for the long haul on a four-year, $118 million contract and most of the Titans offense remains in-tact. The team will look to achieve success through continuity. What sits behind Robinson’s starting signal-caller is not nearly enough, though, should something happen to Tannehill in a year where COVID-19 puts health at a premium. Logan Woodside has been praised for his studying skills and work ethic but has never played an NFL snap. Seventh-round pick Cole McDonald might have potential, but could he truly be ready for action should his services be needed? Tennessee invested in Tannehill but have yet to find an adequate insurance policy.
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Say his name: Colin Kaepernick
“Well, listen, if (Kaepernick) wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it’s going to take a team to make that decision,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said on ESPN Monday. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that.
“If his efforts are not on the field but continuing to work in this space, we welcome him to that table and to help us, guide us, help us make better decisions about the kinds of things that need to be done in the communities. We have invited him in before, and we want to make sure that everybody’s welcome at that table and trying to help us deal with some very complex, difficult issues that have been around for a long time.”
For some, the mere mention of the former 49er still evokes a visceral reaction. Like antagonist Lord Voldemort in the tales of Harry Potter, Kaepernick is the NFL’s “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Unlike that most evil wizard, though, Kaepernick’s greatest sin was a peaceful protest four years ago. That same cry for help in the form kneeling against police brutality in the African American community find many of us coming around to the right side of history in 2020’s racial climate.
That message only cost him his career.
Now, the Titans are in the back-up market again and Kaepernick’s relevance has never been greater. The current free agent market for quarterbacks has Blake Bortles as its headliner and only erodes from there. Robinson’s roster is constructed to win now but the GM knows a season can be easily torpedoed by insufficient quarterback options (Zach Mettenberger, Matt Cassel, Blaine Gabbert all make the Titans Hall of Shame).
Pros and cons lists are imperfect as the people who construct them. For Kaepernick, though, it is worth the time.
- He’s better than Logan Woodside and Cole McDonald. There cannot be an argument for either quarterback currently on the Titans roster because they have no NFL starting experience between them. Kaepernick’s learning curve will be greater, his body will be older and four years without live action reps will have affected his processing. Reports of Kaepernick “training like crazy” mean little outside of the structure of an actual team. But there is no argument to be made for Super Bowl experience vs starting in the AAF
- Tennessee has previously shown some interest. The Titans were one of seven teams to attend Kaepernick’s Charles Drew High School private-turned-public workout in 2019. The quarterback remained unsigned after the fact but a willingness to attend signals some kind of openness to the idea.
- He fits the offensive scheme. San Francisco’s greatest sin with Kaepernick was getting further away from his running ability as they tried to expand OC Greg Roman’s playbook during their time together. Conventional quarterback evolution would deem Kaepernick a failure but, as the league has learned in the years since then, that position doesn’t need convention to succeed. An additional running threat in the Arthur Smith’s offense, a skill set that suits the team’s play action passing and a more varied playbook all check boxes positively. The goal is to maximize every player taking up a roster spot and that becomes easier with a more talented back-up quarterback.
- It represents true action to affect change. Statements give us all the feels and Tannehill, Robinson, coach Mike Vrabel and controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk all deserve credit for their messages in the last few weeks against racism and police brutality. Links to resources are excellent but signing the man who embodies an entire movement represent true change. This would represent true leadership.
- Can he even run the offense? We have no idea what Kaepernick looks like on a football field directing 10 other offensive players. The global pandemic threatening football season makes the emphasis on continuity that much greater. Woodside’s knowledge of Tennessee’s system has been harped on by GM, head coach and offensive coordinator alike. Does it matter if Kaepernick is the more physically talented player if he cannot quickly learn the Arthur Smith’s language?
- What if they work him out, but don’t sign him? The optics are bad and it penalizes any team who would even take the chance to bring Kaepernick in. A workout without a contract would set the news media aflame until the quarterback’s next opportunity, which may not ever come. Pete Carroll wishing that the Seahawks would have signed Kaepernick years ago gets labeled as revisionist history. It does not absolve the original sin.
- Yes, NEWS media. You think you want your team to get exposure? Toss CNN and FOX News into your daily locker room experience and see if you feel the same way. Kaepernick, at this point, transcends sports and his actions and reactions warrant national news coverage. Football people detest extra attention or distractions. This is a media grenade rolled out in the middle of your training camp.
- Where do loyalties lie? At this point in his genesis, Kaepernick is a heroic figure to many people who occupy locker rooms around the country. The causes are noble even if the messenger was not perfect but now his name is mentioned among sports champions of equality like Muhammed Ali and Jim Brown. How does a football team respond to a back-up quarterback whom some absolutely revere for his sacrifice? How do the players who still disagree with kneeling (and there are a few already having that discussion) during the National Anthem react to the leader of the movement in their own ranks? The potential for creating division is very real.
All options to improve the football team should be considered. Kaepernick’s case might be flawed but, for the Titans, it’s a very real one.
Featured Image: USA TODAY Sports – Don McPeak.