An Overdue Post About Running Quarterbacks in General and Colin Kaepernick Specifically

In a sad piece of news that you probably already know, the Super Bowl is over and professional football has ceased to exist until the summer. It’s time for everyone with a rooting interest to put on the scrubs, get out the scalpels and start the offseason autopsies. That’s what this post is about.

You should know this by now, but I’m not a 49ers fans. I live in San Francisco, so I’m pretty surrounded by the misplaced running quarterback love, but in general I see the Alex Smith vs. Colin Kaepernick, pocket passer vs. runner battle in San Francisco to be the most important story for one of the league’s best teams over the summer. Of course, it’s something that I have a strong opinion about, so I’ll go on.

To start, let me say something about the goal of football decisions. Winning a bunch of games in a season is something the fans will love. Winning a Super Bowl is something the whole country will celebrate. Building a franchise that contends for and wins multiple championships in a short period of time is the absolute pinnacle and should be the aim of every professional sports organization.

Of course, the decisions made in-game and on the field are the ones that generate individual wins, but the offseason decision made about who makes the roster and how much they get paid are the ones that ultimately form long-term dynasties.

Kiss it while you can, Kap, your neck won't always bend like that.

Kiss it while you can, Kap, your neck won’t always bend like that.

And that’s the situation the Niners are in now. Colin Kaepernick came on strong at the end of the season and in the playoffs and won the starting quarterback job. He’s young, he’s fast, he’s cheap for now, he’s a winner. Kaepernick has been described as “the Future of the NFL,” “the franchise quarterback” and “the next stage of quarterback evolution.” That’s pretty high praise for a guy who has only started 10 NFL games. I haven’t seen terms yet, but extending his contract will be a primary goal for SF this summer.

Where will they get the money?

Alex Smith is currently the backup quarterback and is scheduled to make more than 8 million dollars next year. Keeping him and paying him that much money to warm up on the sidelines is the worst decision they can make, and the SF brass knows that, so he’ll likely be traded or cut.

Is it just me or is this all crazy talk? Sure, Alex Smith probably isn’t worth 8 mil, but are we really ready to anoint Kaepernick with such a small sample size? And why are people running around praising the running quarterback like it’s some kind of genius invention?

I remember a few years ago when the Wildcat formation was getting the same treatment. It was the wave of the future. Until the one team that ran the formation struggled to make any noise and the “traditional” offenses outpaced it.

Running quarterbacks aren’t a secret or an evolution or any kind of noteworthy discovery, they’re a health risk and a contractual nightmare. Sure, having a quarterback who is also a running back gives you one extra blocker or one more skill position player, basically playing 12 on 11 when you have the ball, which is great. But the cost is having the most important player on the team out of the protected pocket and getting hit way more often. And not just pushed out of bounds, actually hit. Linebacker hit. Running start hit. No blockers hit.

As far as I’m concerned, running quarterbacks do two things: improve the offense marginally and get injured. Maybe we have let fantasy football distort our view of quarterbacks too much, but having a quarterback who can throw for 200 yards and run for 100 yards is the same as having a quarterback who can throw for 300 yards. Those ground gains don’t count differently.

Remember when Cam Newton broke all those offensive rookie records two years ago? What happened to him this year? Oh, that’s right, regression. Remember when the Eagles gave the keys to Michael Vick and it worked out beautifully for half a season? And then how Nick Foles took the job from him? Those hits add up. They always have before and they always will in the future. Kaepernick is no different.

Cheer up Alex Smith, there's plenty of room to count that money on the bench.

Cheer up Alex Smith, there’s plenty of room to count that money on the bench.

I have nothing against Colin Kaepernick, he had a hell of a season. But planning an offense around a mobile quarterback is just rolling the dice on his health and sooner or later, it’s going to bite you. With the strength of the Niners’ defense, they really just need a game-management quarterback that doesn’t lose games.

Is it right for the Niners to get rid of Alex Smith? Yes. He costs too much for a backup. Is it smart to invest so heavily in Kaepernick? No, it’s ridiculous to expect him to stay healthy for the length of his contract.

My advice about quarterbacks? Look around and see what the successful offenses are doing. Teams that are consistently at the top of the standings are doing it with protected quarterbacks who stay healthy (with maybe the exception of Aaron Rodgers, who has a lot more meat on his bones than Kaepernick and rushes less frequently).

If you’re a SF fan and you’re reading this, I’m sorry. Colin Kaepernick isn’t the franchise savior, he’s the next in a pattern of regressors. I sincerely hope he stays healthy, but history just doesn’t bode well for him. And seriously, Matt Moore is a free agent …

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