Will Kaepernick’s free agency come down to production or politics?

Meals on Wheels has confirmed a $50,000 donation from Colin Kaepernick. (Denis Poroy/AP)

NFL free agency kicked off Thursday with Colin Kaepernick still on the sidelines.

As quarterbacks around the league continue to play musical chairs, I set out to forecast where Kaepernick might land when the music stops. The Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets seemed the most likely destinations, but two of those vacancies have already been filled.

The Jets remain a possibility — and recently hired John Morton, the San Francisco 49ers wide receivers coach when Kaepernick was at his best in the Bay area, as their offensive coordinator — but how long will Kaepernick have to wait to find a new team? And, more interestingly, why is he waiting at all?

Tyrod Taylor and Brian Hoyer have already inked new deals. The Houston Texans sent Brock Osweiler and two draft picks to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in a deal of two teams agreeing to take each other’s problems. Mike Glennon got $18.5 million guaranteed from Chicago on potential alone.

You can make a statistical argument Kaepernick is a more accomplished runner and passer than all of the men above.

Mike Glennon is expected to get a three-year deal with an annual average of $14.5 million from the Bears. Glennon has 4,100 yards, 30 touchdowns and an 84.1 career passer rating. Kaepernick has a career passer rating of 88.9 and has passed for more than twice as many touchdowns and three times as many yards.

So, again, why is he waiting?

Although he’s been in the spotlight for a while and is now after his third NFL contract, Kaepernick is still just 29 years old, which is nothing for a QB nowadays. Glennon is two years younger; Hoyer is two years older.

We also aren’t that far removed from a time when Kaepernick excelled as a starter. And his play hasn’t fallen off as much as you might think.

In 11 games last season, Kaepernick put up 2,241 yards and 16 touchdowns, and completed 59.2 per cent of his passes. Still a threat with his legs, he actually finished second in rushing among QBs, picking up 468 yards and two scores on the ground despite starting only 11 games.

Kaepernick finished last season ranked 17th in passer rating, ahead of Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Carson Palmer. That should tell you something, because if any of those guys were free agents, they’d be scooped up pretty quickly.

There were only two free-agent quarterbacks with 100 or more passing attempts who managed a passer rating over 90 last season: Brian Hoyer (98) and Kaepernick (90.7). Hoyer was scooped up by the Niners rather quickly after a disastrous post-season performance with Houston.

Looking at the other options on the market: Tony Romo is soon to be available via trade and has struggled to stay healthy and play well in the clutch. After that, all that’s left are Jets castaways Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith. Not exactly a murderers’ row.

There’s also still considerable demand for capable QBs. The Jets, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos could all use help under centre. And to make matters worse, the incoming draft class of QBs offers no clear blue-chip option.

Of course, teams could claim Kaepernick wouldn’t fit into their locker room culture. But despite all the turmoil surrounding his anthem protest, Kaepernick was awarded the Niners’ Len Eshmont Award for his inspirational and courageous play. The honour was voted on by his teammates. Clearly, he’s not a cancer in the locker room and the “baggage” he supposedly comes with is blown totally out of proportion.

The anthem protest should no longer be an issue.

And yet, as Mike Freeman reported, for many teams it is. Some are even going as far as asking prospective players at the draft combine whether they align with Kaepernick’s politics.

Of course, Kaepernick isn’t the only outspoken player with cause to fear his words and actions may have ramifications in free agency. But it’s clear the book on him has been written and closed despite the fact that he recently announced he will no longer protest pre-game, and continues to do wonderful charitable work.

That’s a real shame because the game is better when teams have functional QBs at the helm. Anyone who disagrees should be forced to watch last season’s Raiders-Texans wild-card game on a loop.

We can argue whether Kaepernick will ever get back to being a dominant quarterback. But by any reasonable metric he’s an average starter and an over-qualified back-up. If he can’t find a job — and quickly — it’s a clear sign that his on-field ability isn’t the only determining factor.

I’d like to believe production and not politics gets you under centre. Don’t prove me wrong NFL.