Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Niners Need to Embrace Colin Kaepernick Again

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2016

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers wamrs up on the sidelines against the Los Angeles Rams in the second half of their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Sit Blaine, bringing the pain and Sea Bass...

   

1. It's Time for Colin Kaepernick to Start

This column isn't about Kaepernick's protest. So for those who believe Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem will lead to the end of Western civilization, or the swallowing of all life by a black hole, you can read on. This is strictly about football and why the Niners need to make a change at quarterback.  

Why he isn't starting makes no sense.

Coach Chip Kellya strong Kaepernick supporter—says Kaepernick isn't physically ready to play. He'd know, but it seems like Kaepernick is fine. After all, at his press conference before the 49ers played Seattle, the San Francisco coach said Kaepernick was playing Russell Wilson on the scout team.

If he's healthy enough to play Wilson on the scout team, why isn't he healthy enough to play?

Further, if Kaepernick isn't ready, then why was he deemed the No. 2 QB on the depth chart?

"Because he’s capable to be the backup," Kelly said, according to a transcript from the team. "But I don’t think he’s ready to go full-time. He’s continuing to work on it... Kap will be the first to tell you, if you guys have been around here before, I think his playing weight has been around 225 and he’s not at that right now. 

"He had a serious layoff in times in terms of being able to medical rehab. To get the full Kap for what you need, the potential that he has, he needs to continue to just work on the physical aspect of things."

Sep 12, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly on the sideline against the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter at Lev'i's Stadium. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Los Angeles Rams 28-0. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly has had a remarkably copacetic season thus far with his players. He's been smart, introspective and has gained great respect in the locker room.

But for whatever reason, he's had a blind spot about playing Kaepernick. I don't understand it, and I'm not the only one.

Seattle's Michael Bennett said Kaepernick gives the 49ers the best chance to win.

Bennett, conversely, was asked about the challenge of containing Gabbert.

"There is no challenge," Bennett told the Seattle Times. "He threw for 100 yards. The challenge is him reading the defense and staying in the pocket."

Well, dayum.

The 49ers have been more competitive than most thought they'd be, and they could win eight or nine games with Kaepernick, because the league is so unpredictable now. So many stars are hurt, and divisions are more up for grabs than they have been in some time, even in the NFC West. Consider for a moment that a team that didn't score a touchdown in its first two games—the sorry Rams—are leading the division through three weeks. 

Kaepernick isn't the same player he was when the 49ers went to the Super Bowl, but he's certainly better than Blaine Gabbert and his 68.6 passer rating and 3-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

   

2. D-Fence!

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 25: Brian Robison #96 of the Minnesota Vikings sacks Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers in the 2nd half during the game at Bank of America Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

For the first time in a long time, defense is dominating the NFL.

I know, right? Ridiculous. What's next? A real estate investor will become president?

But this is where we are in NFL history. Since the Broncos defense keyed their Super Bowl run last season, there's been a palpable, calculable change—a new era in football has begun.

For years, the NFL has been engineering the game to create more offense. It has lessened the ability of players to hit harder. The rules prevent defensive backs from physical pass coverage. The quarterback can't be hit as hard or in as many places on the field. 

All of these changes made the game safer but put defenses at a strategic disadvantage. Scoring went up, and on the defensive side of the football, so did frustrations. 

Something is different now. Consider the headlining performances in Week 3:

• The Chiefs intercepted the Jets' Ryan "Sixpatrick" six times Sunday. According to ESPN's Trey Wingo, he became the first quarterback to throw six picks without a touchdown pass since Tom Tupa, who started his NFL career in 1988.

It's not just that Fitzpatrick was putrid (he was); it was more that the Chiefs defense was incredible.

 The Vikings had eight sacks on Sunday against a good Carolina offense, a unit that dominated the NFL last year (except in the Super Bowl). It was the most sacks in a road game for the Vikings, according to the NFL, since 2003. And it was one shy of the team road record of nine set in 1970.

 The Eagles defense was ranked 28th in the league last year. It added Jim Schwartz, a solid defensive coordinator, and it's ranked No. 1 now. It held one of the most potent offenses in history, the Steelers, to three points.

 The Bills shut down an Arizona offense that toasted the Buccaneers for 40 points the week before. Buffalo intercepted Carson Palmer four times while holding the Cards to 18 points.

I could go on, but it's clear the pendulum is swinging back toward defense.

When I asked some team executives about this, they agreed and said the reason was simple.

Teams have invested heavily in increasing the level of athleticism on the defensive side of the ball, and it's paying off. Some scouts said teams started to spend in earnest three to five years ago, and the effects of that are showing now.

The level of talent and speed have improved so much that defenders can now hang with receivers within the confines of the strict rules that favor offenses. In other words, they've adapted.

Again, this isn't temporary, not with so much money and manpower being devoted to the defensive side of the ball. It's not as sexy as Antonio Brown catching blazing touchdowns, but it works.

We are now in a different era. A defensive era. Get used to it.

     

3. Repeat After Me: Josh Norman Is Not a Cover Corner

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants runs after a catch against  Josh Norman #24 of the Washington Redskins during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 25, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al B
Al Bello/Getty Images

This is no insult to him, but playing the role of a cover corner is not what Norman does. In fact, almost no one does.

In this era of Revenge of the Defense, covering one player all over the fieldthe definition of a true cover cornerremains the toughest thing to do in all of sports (with the possible exception of the fighting sports). And today, there may be only two or three players (Patrick Patterson and Malcolm Butler to name a few) in the league who are true cover corners.

Norman did defend Odell Beckham in many instances Sunday, but not when Beckham was in the slot. True cover corners, especially historically, stick to the receiver everywhere. That's what guys like Mel Blount and Deion Sanders did.

Norman's main role is to upgrade the athleticism of Washington's defense. He's done that; he's one of the best athletes in the sport.

Improve a pass rush, and you improve a secondary. Improve a secondary, and you improve not just a pass rush, but also the entire defense, and maybe the whole team.

That's the value Norman brings to Washington.

    

4. Things Will Change in Cleveland

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns looks on along with Dominique Alexander #54 and Tracy Howard #41 against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

This is my story and I'm sticking to it: Browns coach Hue Jackson will turn the franchise around.

It won't be this season. This season will be ugly. But in two or three years, this organization will be a playoff team because of Jackson's innovations and abilities to turn an ordinary offensive player into a good one and a good one into a solid one.

There's a reason Andy Dalton played well all of last season when Jackson was the offensive coordinator, and why Dalton isn't playing all that well now. And there's a reason Terrelle Pryor has become the Browns' top offensive threat.

Pryor has always been a special talent, but the previous regime didn't know what to do with him. Enter Jackson.

Against a decent Miami defense, Pryor had 144 receiving yards, 35 passing yards and 21 rushing yards (with a touchdown). He might have been the best player on the field. His performance, according to the NFL, was the first time a player had at least 120 receiving yards, 30 passing yards and 20 rushing yards in a game since 1959, when Frank Gifford did it.

These are the kinds of performances Jackson can tease out of players with his unique concepts and coaching ability. Yes, the Browns need to draft better. Duh. But they will, and when they do, Jackson will find ways to maximize their abilities.

    

5. Trouble in TV Land?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass the football against the Chicago Bears in the first half at Soldier Field on September 19, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Image
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

NFL ratings are down, according to SportsBusiness Daily (via ProFootballTalk). I think it's an anomaly. Others see a trend.

The reason, I believe, touches on a combination of three things:

1. This is a transition period for the league, as a new crew of quarterbacks and stars enter the NFL. Some people don't want to see Carson Wentz, only names like Peyton Manning (which is dumb, but it's true).

2. Some of the games have been ultra-stinky unwatchable stinkers.

3. The protests by NFL playerswhich are admirable and very Americanhave caused some people to turn their televisions off. I can't prove this, but the anecdotal evidence based on social media posts (which is always dangerous to base anything on) convinces me the uproar has had an effect.

    

6. Could Tony Romo be L.A.'s New Leading Man?

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Injured Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys throws prior to a game against the Chicago Bears at AT&T Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With Dak Prescott's emergence in Dallas, more than a few people around the league believe Romo's days in Dallas are done.

This was the scenario outlined to me by one AFC team assistant personnel man:

A. Stan Kroenke wants a star to boost the Rams' attendance.

B. He strongly urges the team to get Tony Romo.

C. The Cowboys, happy with Dak Prescott, trade Romo to the Rams.

D. The Rams publicly justify the position by saying their top quarterback draft pick can learn from Romo, the way Aaron Rodgers did from Brett Favre.

E. The Rams win a Super Bowl.

Of course, none of that will happen, especially the last point, but the mere fact that Romo is considered a trade target means the Cowboys may have turned the page on the QB position.

    

7. Russell Wilson, Tough Guy

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks runs out of the grasp of outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks #55 of the San Francisco 49ers the first quarter of the game at CenturyLink Field on September 25, 2016 in Seattle,W
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

This is not based on reporting, but more a call for football fans to appreciate Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson for his toughness.

Go ahead and make your nanobubbles jokes. Wilson is now dealing with a sprained MCL.

Wilson remains one of the least appreciated players of his generation. No player generates more arguments on social media when I speak positively about him than Wilson. But it's impossible to not see just how many hard hitsnasty hitsWilson has taken over the years and how he just keeps going. And going.

A lot of the focus on big hits has been (understandably) on Cam Newton, but I see Wilson take similar shots, and there is a lot less chatter about the punishment he takes.

At a certain point, maybe soon, you have to wonder how much more punishment Wilson can take like this.

    

8. This Is Why Teams Stayed Away From Greg Hardy

So, Hardy was arrested. Total shocker, I know.

Several team officials said there were at least two teams taking a look at Hardy. Not a hard look, but a look-see. That look-see, I'm told, is likely over.

These sources believe the arrest basically ended what was already a slim chance for Hardy to return to the NFL.

    

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Austin Seferian-Jenkins #87 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on September 28, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

9. The Jets' Horrible Move

The Jets signed tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins this week. It was one of the worst signings of this young season.

Seferian-Jenkins was arrested on suspicion for DUI on Friday. Tampa Bay cut him immediately. One of the reasons is because this was his second DUI arrest. He got one in college, too.

The timing is odorous. The Jets signed him off waivers, not even feigning as if they were going to see if he had learned from his arrest. They just wanted his talent. I guess there's a modicum of honesty about that. A smidge, perhaps.

Teams constantly talk about how they want character guys. Talent matters, they say, but character is among the most important traits. There's no kind of lesson Seferian-Jenkins could learn in a week or two.

The lesson the Jets will probably learn is the same one teams ignore, only for it to come back and bite them in the ass: You don't have to sign every player.

You can let a few go.

    

10. Will Sebastian Janikowski Kick His Way Into Canton?

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 29:  Sebastian Janikowski #11 of the Oakland Raiders kicks a extra point during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Raiders defeated the Titans 24-21.  (Photo by
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Is Sebastian Janikowski a Hall of Famer?

Not yet. Maybe never.

But he's making it interesting. At least to me.

On Sunday, Janikowski hit a 52-yard field goal. It was his 53rd field goal over 50 yards, and according to the NFL, he passed Jason Hanson for the most field goals over 50 yards in league history.

That alone doesn't make him a Hall of Famer. Far from it. I'm a believer, however, in longevity. This is Janikowski's 17th season. He leads the Raiders in points scored and games played.

He won't get in because it's impossible for kickers to do so, and Adam Vinatieri is ahead of him. Still, Janikowski is going to force a lot of people to at least think about it.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.

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