"Let's build the best 53-man squad and the 10-man practice squad that we can." -Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, circa 2015, discussing the importance of roster depth
"Just win, baby!" -the late Raiders owner Al Davis
With starting quarterback Joe Flacco possibly sidelined for the first several weeks of the 2017 season, the Baltimore Ravens find themselves in the market for a passer if they want to take a shot at the AFC North title. Presumably they do.
If they're serious about winning, they'll sign Colin Kaepernick to take snaps until Flacco returns. He's unquestionably better than the Ravens' current backup quarterback, Ryan Mallett, and if the team wants to be at the top of the standings after three division games in the first four weeks, Kaepernick is the best option for getting there.
Head Coach John Harbaugh, who announced the team had been in discussions with Kaepernick, is on board.
"He's an accomplished football player," he told the press last week.
Flacco's also on board: "I would like to see Colin get back in [the NFL] and, at some point, maybe get another shot [to be a starter]. I wouldn't like that to be here. I do not want him to get another shot [to be a starter] here, but yes, he can come here and have some fun. I think it would be a good spot for him."
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Eric Weddle is good with it too.
"I don't care who they bring in or what they do, if it helps our team, bring them all in."
Terrell Suggs was even more enthusiastic, saying, "Hell yeah, if he's going to help us win. We have no issues. Not in the locker room. Hell yeah, we want him."
Of course, Kaepernick is not just another signing. His ongoing protest of taking a knee during the national anthem to raise awareness about police brutality and social justice causes for people of color has made him a lightning rod. But let's set that aside for a moment and look at this a little more as strictly a football acquisition.
Kaepernick's completion percentage, passer rating, touchtown-to-interception ratio, and yards per completion—pick just about any stat—are all markedly better than Mallett's over the course of their careers. When you compare Mallett's best year with Kaepernick's worst (2015 in both cases), they're a little bit closer, but it's still advantage Kaepernick.
In addition to that, Kaepernick's offensive coordinator from 2011-2014, Greg Roman, is now a special offensive assistant here in Baltimore. If anyone knows what Kaepernick can bring to the team it's Roman, whom Harbaugh almost certainly consulted before he put the idea out into the public.
But as local TV networks and sports-talk radio shows have illustrated, the crowd of flag-waving "patriots" has been rumbling about signing Kaepernick to the Ravens and how his presence would be a distraction or disrespectful—even though having all the team's biggest stars co-sign the move throws the former right out the window. Some have even threatened to cancel their season tickets.
It's an argument that rings hollow when you take even a passing glimpse at the franchise's history. Legendary linebacker Ray Lewis was infamously charged with double murder in 2000 and went to trial, where he pleaded guilty to lesser obstruction of justice charges. Suggs, a sure shot to land in the team's Ring of Honor, has faced multiple accusations of domestic violence, including a 2009 incident where he allgedly knocked the mother of two of his children down, sat on top of her, and threatened to drown her in bleach. That same year, they signed a wide receiver, Donté Stallworth, who was convicted of driving drunk and killing a pedestrian. And in 2014, video showed running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée and knocking her out.
Only in the last instance did the team part ways with a player, and that was apparently apparently a strenuous decision for Bisciotti, who in text messages professed his love for Rice and promised him a job down the line.
In all the other cases, fans were perfectly fine with letting the players get back to football. But now that we have the possibility of bringing on a player who gives a national voice to black issues and exercises his First Amendment right to protest in a rather quiet, symbolic way, that is somehow a bridge to far.
Signing a guy who literally killed someone and was convicted of it in a court of law? Totally fine. Bringing in a guy who kneels during "The Star-Spangled Banner" and posts about police brutality and systemic racism on social media? This is an outrage!
If the people upset about Kaepernick's protest really did care about American values and the flag, they would understand that the ability of citizens to voice their opinions is part of the American fabric, even when—or perhaps especially when—those views criticize the government. And this same idea allows people to disagree with Kaepernick. It works both ways!
But somehow this concept of free speech parity flies out the window when the people talking are minorities asking for the equal rights afforded to them under the law (see also: Blue Lives Matter as a response to Black Lives Matter). For whatever it's worth, Kaepernick is not just dishing out rhetoric here—he is backing it up with a foundation fighting for social justice, toward which he has pledged $1 million of his own money.
Kaepernick's advocacy is righteous, and the whole "controversy" surrounding him and the fact most NFL won't go near him underline the growing rift threatens to rip the country apart. Fans in the counties might hate the idea of Kaepernick in purple and black, but the fans here in the city, the ones who might not be able to afford PSLs and are living with the very issues Kaepernick is pushing back against, would almost certainly embrace it.
The Ravens have handled the whole thing rather poorly, very publicly dragging their heels, which has only served to provide more red meat for hot take-spouting talking heads, and signing guys most people have never heard while still expressing an interest in Kaepernick. Bisciotti, bizarrely, asked for prayers as the team weighed its decision and consulted Lewis. For his part, Lewis brought a bunch of circular logic to an on-air debate with Shannon Sharpe, another former Raven, and then recorded himself to advise Kaepernick to keep his activism private.
But the Ravens are not in the business of being arbiters of morality. If they were, they would be one of the worst franchises in NFL history. And it is not their job to solve the problems of modern-day America. The Baltimore Ravens are in the business of winning football games, which brings us back to the quotes at the top of this column.
If there is legitimate concern about Flacco's health, Colin Kaepernick is a free agent signal caller who makes the Ravens a better team and gives them a better shot to win. Supposedly, winning is the thing that brings fans together, even if they don't have the same views or come from different backgrounds.