Kaepernick addresses 49ers teammates, gains understanding


Kaepernick addresses 49ers teammates, gains understanding

SANTA CLARA –- Leaders at every 49ers position group stood in front of the team Sunday morning during a players-only meeting to discuss Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down during the national anthem.

Many players entered the meeting with an opinion. At least one player’s view changed after hearing directly from Kaepernick about his decision to bring attention to civil rights issues.

“To be honest with you, I took offense to it,” 49ers center Daniel Kilgore said upon learning Kaepernick opted not to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner out of protest for what he sees as injustice for minorities in the United States.

“But after Kap stating his case today, and seeing where he was coming from, I do stand with Kap when he says, ‘Enough is enough against crime and the violence, discrimination and racism.’

“I believe enough is enough. I can see where people would think it’s bad with the national anthem and the military. For me, I’m going to stand there every time. I’m going to think about and honor those who are fighting and those who have fought, my family members, my friends. If Kap decides not to, that’s his decision.”

[RATTO: Colin Kaepernick explores the depths of American symbolism]

Multiple players described the meeting as productive and informative.

“I think we had a better understanding of what he’s feeling and what he’s trying to say, and that we can move on and approach this in our own way, but also be knowledgeable and understand where he was coming from,” 49ers tight end Bruce Miller said.

“We’re not always going to agree or disagree, but we’re going to support every guy just the same.”

Kilgore said the session was beneficial for him to gain more perspective on why Kaepernick is choosing his course of action.

“In seeing his point of view, it does help,” Kilgore said. “It clears the air. It was a good meeting. It was a productive meeting. We’re all under the same understanding that he has that right. And for me, personally, I see where Colin was coming from. I don’t agree with him not standing up for the national anthem, but I do respect and acknowledge the fact that he has the right to decide what he wants to do.”

Wide receiver Torrey Smith's eyes are wide open to the issues in the country. While he is outspoken on social media about his thoughts and opinions, he fully understands the divisiveness of Kaepernick’s decision to not acknowledge the national anthem and the American flag.

“When I think of the national anthem, I think of soldiers who passed away for our freedom,” Smith said. “So that (sitting down) is not something I would do. But I understand Kap has absolutely nothing against soldiers.

“I get why people are mad. But I’m not focused on how he did it but the message he’s trying to send is important. We have real issues in society that need to be addressed. That was his way of standing up for it. I respect his right. Again, whether I agree with what he did or not . . . it’s not something I would do.”

[POOLE: Kaepernick won't be last athlete to take stand against injustices]

Smith said he does not back away from talking about such heavy topics in the locker room. He said he has engaged Kaepernick about discussions about social issues.

“I like to talk about these things because we all come from different types of backgrounds,” Smith said. “A lot of people like to act like racism and things like that don’t exist in society. If you believe that, go look at Kap’s Instagram comments or his Twitter comments. He’s being called the N-word and ‘Go back to your country,’ and ‘You don’t like this, go here.’ If you say things people don’t agree with, that’s just the way it goes, especially in the social media era.”

Smith added, “The bad thing about what Kap did, it might offend some people. The positive is, it has people talking about something.”

Smith is a father to two young sons. He knows he might need to have the same conversation his mother had with him when he was young.

“I didn’t understand why my mom had to talk to me about why some people wouldn’t like me because I’m dark skinned,” he said. “I didn’t understand why she had to talk to me about watching where I’m hanging out late at night because I could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t understand why she would talk to me in general about how I acted and behaved with police officers, making sure I’m conducting myself the right way, even if I didn’t do anything wrong.

“A lot of people haven’t had to have these conversations with their kids. I’m looking at my son, and I’m scared to death because I do know these issues exist, and that’s something you have to deal with. And people act like they don’t. I know it’s important to talk about it.”

[MAIOCCO: Kaepernick, Dr. Harry Edwards talk before 49ers practice]

One of the main purposes of the meeting was to make sure the situation has no negative impact on the team. While everyone might have a different opinion, the consensus seemed to be that Kaepernick -– or anyone else –- has the right to show passion for a cause in which he believes.

“We recognize what he did and what he took a stand for,” 49ers safety Antoine Bethea said. “And as human beings, and citizens, he has that right to do so. Everybody’s going to have their opinion, whether you agree or disagree, you have to take note of that’s why America is America. He’s able to do that. He has that right.”

Kaepernick's symbolic and polarizing gesture does not distract from what the 49ers are setting out to accomplish as a team, linebacker NaVorro Bowman said.

“Every guy on this team is entitled to his opinion,” he said. “We’re all grown men. We play the ultimate team sports. And we ask a lot of guys to come together, no matter what their beliefs are, no matter how they were brought up, to have one common goal, and that’s to win football games. Anything outside of that is not really important to the team.”

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

Who's the best tight end in the NFL?

While many feel strongly on the subject, there really are only two acceptable answers. You can bicker back and forth as to who is superior between 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, but they're clearly in a tier unto themselves.

If you're partial to the intricacies of route-running, Kelce might be your choice. If you like a bruiser who contributes in all aspects of the offense, Kittle surely is your guy.

If there is a separation between the two, it's by hairs. Don't take my word for it. More than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players recently voted on the top 10 players at 11 different positions for the upcoming 2020 season, and the top two tight ends were separated by the slimmest margin of any position group.

To the delight of 49ers fans, and the ire of those of the Chiefs, Kittle came out on top. Just barely.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

After the first round of votes, ESPN's Jeremey Fowler reported Kittle and Kelce sat at a dead-even split. Additional voting and follow-up calls were required, which ultimately tilted the result in Kittle's favor.

Just like Kelce, Kittle was ranked as high as No. 1 at the position, but no lower than No. 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only other player to receive a first-place vote, but last I checked it's 2020 and not 2015.

"Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons make Kittle a top contender, but his blocking and intensity helped earn him nearly half the first-place votes," Fowler wrote. "Where Kittle beats everyone is at the line of scrimmage and with the ball in his hands, as he forced a league-high 20 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus."

The voters were full of compliments for Kelce, but Kittle's mentality, leadership and scheme flexibility proved to be the tie-breakers.

"Be on the field, and see how he elevates the play of everyone in the offense. It's tangible," one NFC coordinator said. "He lifts everyone up."

"The passion on tape is unmatched," an AFC executive explained. "He's got that dog in him. More competitive than Kelce."

"Unreal passion, energy, toughness, blocking," said another executive.

[RELATED: Mahomes contract could put pressure on 49ers signing Kittle]

Kittle might have won the vote, but last time he and Kelce were on the same field, the Chiefs tight end got the better of him, both in the box score and in the Lombardi Trophy department. Of course, if Kittle isn't called for that questionable-at-best offensive pass interference penalty, it might be a completely different story.

In any case, there's no shame in Kelce being ranked below Kittle, nor would there be if it was the other way around. They're both extremely special players, and it's not a coincidence that their teams arguably are the two best in the NFL.

Why A.J. Green trade doesn't make sense for 49ers unlike other big names

Why A.J. Green trade doesn't make sense for 49ers unlike other big names

I've argued that the 49ers should pursue trades for New York Jets star safety Jamal Adams and Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku. The latter certainly would be accomplished the easiest of the two, though the former is worth the extra trouble. 

I stand by both of those arguments as each player would be an upgrade over what San Francisco already has, while both are young and still have bright futures ahead of them. Though he surely is quite talented, the same cannot be said of Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green.

Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox recently listed the one personnel move he believes each NFL team should make before the start of the 2020 season, and a trade for Green is precisely what he recommended for the 49ers. That is one big-name player, however, that San Francisco has very little reason to consider.

For starters, time simply is not on Green's side. Unlike Adams and Njoku, who both will be 24 years of age when the season starts, Green will be 32. Then there's the matter of availability. Unlike Adams and Njoku, Green has quite a long injury history, posting only two full seasons in the last six, while missing 29 games over the last four. That number includes the 16 games he missed last season while sitting out the entirety of the campaign.

Both of those matters could be easily overlooked for the purposes of this coming season -- if not for one major deterrent. As Knox pointed out, the 49ers could have a major need at receiver, depending on the health of Deebo Samuel. 

"Though the recently oft-injured Green may no longer be the elite pass-catcher he once was, he could be the sort of reliable and consistent veteran San Francisco had in Emmanuel Sanders over the second half of 2019," Knox wrote. "Adding Green would give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a go-to target in clutch situations. It would also provide insurance for second-year wideout Deebo Samuel, who suffered a foot injury while training this offseason."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

If only it were that simple.

That aforementioned deterrent is a financial one. Green will make nearly $17.9 million on the franchise tag this coming season, a salary San Francisco couldn't absorb without shedding a significant amount of other expenses. Not to mention, the 49ers have to leave open the possibility that they might have to use the franchise tag on George Kittle. 

And that's just for this coming season. 

Green reportedly doesn't want to play on the franchise tag, and the Cincinnati Enquirer's Tyler Dragon reported in December that he wants to be paid like "one of the best receivers in the NFL." Obviously, that would mean a significant, long-term financial commitment, which the 49ers can't realistically offer him. Assuming Kittle is re-signed to a lucrative contract extension, they have nowhere near that kind of room in the salary cap moving forward to be able to pay Green what he is seeking.

And that's another area where the potential pursuits of Green and Adams differ. San Francisco is led by one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. Coach Kyle Shanahan is a luxury in the respect that he is able to get more out of his offensive weapons by scheming them open, which is why you don't see any large salaries -- Kittle aside -- at San Francisco's skill positions. 

[RELATED: Mahomes contract could put pressure on 49ers signing Kittle]

Shanahan, though, doesn't have nearly as much impact on the defensive execution. He is more reliant on the talent of the personnel on that side of the ball, which is why the 49ers have paid large annual sums for the likes of Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Richard Sherman. Adams would help in an area that Shanahan cannot. 

Green could be extremely effective in Shanahan's system, but it would be fiscally irresponsible to a tremendous degree to funnel the team's remaining resources to an aging receiver who might not be any better than what San Francisco already has at this point. Not to mention, the cost it would take to acquire Green from the Bengals. 

They had every opportunity to trade him last season, when they surely would have received a massive haul in return. Cincinnati then invested the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on quarterback Joe Burrow, whose transition surely would be aided by having a veteran receiver like Green to throw to. So, it seems highly unlikely that any team could acquire him on the cheap. 

If San Francisco is going to invest both draft and financial capital in a difference-maker, it needs to be on someone who is a certainty to both improve the odds on and extend the current championship window. Green doesn't check either of those boxes for the 49ers, which is why they're extremely unlikely to do what it would take to acquire him.