It’s been nearly four years since Colin Kaepernick caused a major stir in the NFL by kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality — a peaceful protest that drew the ire of many league owners, as well as President Donald Trump, and ultimately led to his exile from the league following the 2016 season.
Four years later, many fans are still debating if Kaepernick deserves a spot in the NFL. But there isn’t a doubt in the mind of former teammate Alex Smith, who believes Kaepernick should still be playing professional football.
Smith played with Kaepernick for two seasons with the 49ers, losing his job to the younger QB after suffering a concussion midway through the 2012 season. With Kaepernick under center, San Francisco went 5-2 in the regular and won the NFC championship, falling short to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
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“It was hard to kind of see that trajectory because he was playing so good, and doing things nobody had done,” Smith said on the “Dan Le Batard Show” on ESPN Radio. “I think he still holds the single-game rushing record for a quarterback. It was crazy.
“So with that said, it was so absurd — I think equally — that it was only a few years later when you’re like, ‘This guy doesn’t have a job.’ That was hard to imagine. It still is, a guy with his ability and his trajectory that all of a sudden wasn’t playing.”
At 25 years old, Kaepernick threw for 1,814 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions (career-high 98.3 rating) while rushing for 415 yards and five touchdowns. During the 2012 postseason run, he set an NFL single-game record for most rushing yards by a quarterback with 181 in the divisional round against the Packers. He completed 16 of 28 passes for 302 yards for a touchdown and an interception in the Super Bowl while rushing for 62 yards and a score.
He never quite replicated the same level of success after that season, though he had a solid 2013 campaign in which he led the 49ers to another NFC championship appearance; his heave to the end zone to try to win the game was tipped by then-Seahawks corner Richard Sherman and intercepted by Malcom Smith, leading to this infamous interview.
After that, the 49ers started to crumble. They went 8-8 in Jim Harbaugh’s last year as head coach in 2014, then fell to a dismal 5-11 in Jim Tomsula’s first year in charge in 2015 as Kaepernick lost the starting job to Blaine Gabbert in Week 9. Kaepernick ended up missing the remainder of the season, needing surgery on his left shoulder, as well as his thumb and knee. He began the 2016 season benched behind Gabbert but ended up starting 11 games, throwing for 2,241 yards and 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Kaepernick held an open workout last season in an attempt to get back in the NFL, but was not signed by a team. He said he refused to take a job as a backup.