3 weeks ago
In 2012 during a game against the St. Louis Rams, then-49ers quarterback Alex Smith took a hit to the head during a touchdown drive and was diagnosed with a concussion following a San Francisco score.
His backup at the time, Colin Kaepernick, came in and threw for 117 yards in relief, adding 66 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown as San Fran held on for a 24-24 tie with the Rams.
Kaepernick’s dual-threat performance was impressive enough that when Smith was eligible to return, the team opted to keep him on the bench and rolled with Kap for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
After going 5-2 down the stretch as San Francisco’s starter, Kaepernick continued his torrid play in the playoffs and quarterbacked the 49ers to within one complete pass of a Super Bowl victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
That was enough to convince the 49ers that Kaepernick was the real deal. The team traded Smith to Kansas City before the start of the 2013 season, a move that paid off as the team went 12-4 the following year and came up one game short of advancing to the Super Bowl a second time.
If the first-place Redskins are smart in the wake of Smith suffering a brutal season-ending leg injury on Sunday, they’ll take a page out of San Francisco’s book and replace him with Kaepernick the same way the Niners did in 2012.
The team’s current starter, backup quarterback Colt McCoy, hasn’t started a game since 2014 – for good reason. A starter for four games that season, McCoy threw three interceptions compared to only four touchdowns, leading the Redskins to a 1-3 record over that stretch that saw the team average a measly 15 points scored per game.
Should the Redksins — who only score 19.7 points as currently constituted — average that amount of points going forward, they would be 30th in the NFL behind only Arizona (14.5) and Buffalo (13.7).
If division-leading Washington wants to maintain its one-game lead in the NFC East, the team will have to do better than that, and therefore, better than McCoy (7-18 over his career as a starter).
And that doesn’t mean replacing McCoy with Mark Sanchez, who the team signed to back up their backup on Monday.
Kaepernick’s career completion percentage (59.8 percent) and touchdown percentage (4.3 percent) is higher and his interception percentage (1.8 percent), is also lower.
Sanchez’s playoff record of 4-2 may have been the reason the Redskins ultimately decided to sign the former Jet butt-fumbler to a contract to back up McCoy. But it’s not a good one.
Sanchez has a career quarterback rating of 73.9 while throwing just as many interceptions (86) as he has touchdowns. By comparison, Kaepernick has an 88.9 career quarterback rating and a sparkling 72 to 30 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a passer. He also averaged 6.1 yards per rush and has scampered into the end zone 13 times on the ground.
In the playoffs and regular season combined, Kaepernick is 32-32 and, as was made obvious during ’12 and ’13, can handle playing on the biggest stage in the pressure-packed postseason.
If that’s where the Redskins want to go this season, Kaepernick – who wants to play football and continues to work out five hours per day, six days a week so he’s in shape to do so – is the player to take them, not McCoy or Sanchez.
And bringing in Kaepernick to replace Smith isn’t just a hot take because of his controversial decision to take a knee during the national anthem in protest of race issues; it’s a logical one.
Washington’s current quarterbacks coach, Kevin O’Connell, was an offensive coaching assistant with San Francisco in 2016 when Kaepernick was still there.
Even though the Niners only went 1-10 with Kaepernick under center that season, he had a 90.7 quarterback rating while throwing 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also averaged 6.8 yards per rush while tallying 468 yards and two touchdowns on the ground that year, his last in the NFL. He didn’t have the support at wide receiver that he would have in Washington.
Clearly, there’s no guarantee Kaepernick would be able to replicate that production right off the bat after so long off the field, but there is a chance he could start producing at a Smith-like level, at the least, sooner rather than later.
And the later part of it is also something the Redskins should be considering as there is no guarantee Smith, 34, will return. If he doesn’t, Washington won’t have much room to replace him with an expensive free agent as Smith’s deal has a massive $71 million injury guarantee which will severely hamstring the Redskins against the salary cap.
Should Washington look to replace Smith via the draft, they won’t have a very high pick thanks to their record and will likely take a quarterback who will need at least a season to get up to speed at the NFL level. While that’s happening, Washington will still need a moderately priced veteran to play and help them contend, as the team is too good (and their division too bad) to mail in next season. That veteran QB could easily be Kaepernick.
Bringing in Kaepernick could also have helped the Redskins, who face ongoing protests from Native American groups and others who find the antiquated name offensive and racist, in the court of public opinion.
While it wouldn’t have erased the stain of their continued use of the nickname, Washington bringing in Kaepernick would have at least given the impression the team and owner Daniel Snyder care a little bit about minorities and social justice issues.
Likely good for the team on the field and certainly good for them off of it, Washington bringing in Kaepernick to replace Smith, or at least compete for the starting job, would have been the right move.
However, given the team’s track record with personnel decisions, it isn’t all that surprising they made the wrong one and signed Sanchez.