Chicago Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks needed just four words to sum up why he thought former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been blackballed by the NFL.
"We signed Mike Glennon."
Hicks said as much in a video press conference with reporters Wednesday, referring to Chicago's decision to sign Glennon to a contract worth $18.5 million guaranteed in 2017. Kaepernick, who had kneeled during the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and institutional racism throughout the 2016 season, went unsigned that entire offseason and since then.
Kaepernick's protest has received renewed attention as protestors demonstrate around the world against the same societal issues the QB sought to highlight. George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died last Monday in Minneapolis police custody after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as he pleaded that he couldn't breathe. Floyd's death also occurred within months of Louisville police fatally shooting a 26-year-old African American woman named Breonna Taylor, and nearly four months after two white men allegedly followed and shot Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man, as he jogged in his Georgia neighborhood.
Kaepernick argued his protest against police brutality cost him his job as part of a collusion lawsuit he ultimately settled with the NFL last February, and he has been a free agent since opting out of his contract with the 49ers -- after they said they would release him otherwise -- in 2017. Former 49ers teammate Alex Smith said last month it's "absurd" Kaepernick, who led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance and an NFC Championship Game berth in back-to-back seasons, has not been employed by an NFL team since then.
“I think he would have gotten a good deal if he had not protested,” Hicks said. “Does he have all the qualifications that we seem to be looking for in NFL quarterbacks? Athletic. He can get the ball down the field. I think that he fits a lot of those categories. Do I know if he would have gotten a huge deal and gone onto be a Hall of Fame quarterback? I don’t know these things. I just know that when he took a knee, he was silenced -- or they attempted to silence him.”
Some of Kaepernick's critics argued he played his way out of a job. Yes, the 49ers went just 1-10 after a healthy Kaepernick regained the starting job from Blaine Gabbert in 2016. But the QB posted a 90.1 passer rating and 16 touchdowns (to four interceptions), all while playing on a team that current general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan couldn't wait to strip for spare parts the following offseason.
Nine 49ers caught at least 10 passes from Kaepernick in 2016, and seven didn't return to San Francisco the following season. Only one of those nine players, depth tight end Garrett Celek, was on the 49ers' roster in 2019. Three haven't played in an NFL game since then, and another (Rod Streater) has only played in three games -- all in 2018 -- during that time.
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Of course, the Bears might have seen enough when Kaepernick completed just one of five passes for 4 yards against Chicago in the middle of a December snowstorm. Kaepernick's 45 snaps in that game could've been plenty, considering Glennon played all of 15 snaps in 2016 before the Bears signed him to a three-year contract worth up to $45 million.
But Glennon didn't last a season as the Bears' starter, losing his job to Mitchell Trubisky -- who the Bears selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft following a trade with the 49ers -- after just four games. The Bears eventually cut Glennon in 2018.
Glennon has played for three teams since then, and Kaepernick hasn't played for one.
“What I will say is this, though: It’s not a Chicago problem, it’s an entire-league problem," Hicks said of Kaepernick remaining unsigned. "There’s 31 other teams.”
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