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NFL AM: Colin Kaepernick Emerges As NFL’s Hottest Commodity

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Last season, less than three years removed from leading his team to the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick was benched and left for dead by a San Francisco 49ers team that chose Blaine Gabbert over him and went 5-11 for the season.

It was a low point in what once seemed to be such a promising career.

But most of that seems to have been forgotten this offseason as the quarterback carousel turns around the NFL. Brock Osweiler’s defection from Denver to Houston has caused chaos in several places, and now, suddenly, Colin Kaepernick is a hot commodity once more.

As the dust settled on a crazy Wednesday, the first day of the league year, day two was much quieter with a few new signings trickling in throughout the morning and afternoon. But the hot topic all day was Kaepernick, who is on his way out in San Francisco for sure now. It’s just a question now of where he winds up, with the Broncos, Browns, and to a lesser extent the Jets, all on the radar for the 49ers to choose from.

Denver seems to be the most obvious fit and they have by far the biggest need to fill. Coming off a championship, the Broncos have lost their top two quarterbacks in the span of a week and are now left with just Trevor Siemian, a 2015 seventh round pick out of Northwestern who has one NFL snap to his resume — a kneel down — on their roster.

There are many who believe Kaepernick would be a strong fit for the offense Gary Kubiak wants to run in Denver now that he is free of the immobile Manning. That talent is there with Kaepernick. He wouldn’t have had the success he did early in his career without it. But he’s taken several steps back in the last two seasons and it seems there’s just something missing for him between the ears. However Kubiak, a former quarterback himself, likely believes that he can groom Kaepernick to reach his ceiling once again.

Kaepernick also has the pedigree to succeed with the Broncos. The former second round pick has made 53 starts with San Francisco over five seasons, including six in the playoffs. He led the team to a Super Bowl in just his first half season as a starter and in his first full season, they returned to the NFC Championship. That’s much more than can be said for Denver’s other options.

But Denver isn’t the only team in play, and on Friday Cleveland emerged as a serious suitor, driven by the fact that they are reportedly Kaepernick’s lead choice among the three teams in discussion with San Francisco at this time. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Kaepernick favors the Browns because of the deep respect he has for their new coach Hue Jackson.

Of course that would make Kaepernick the only person in the NFL who wants to be in Cleveland right now. Over the first 48 hours of the new league year, the Browns have seen four key players defect, including three on the offensive side of the ball — center Alex Mack, tackle Mitchell Schwartz and wide receiver Travis Benjamin. Those losses leave the Browns nearly barren on offense, especially the offensive line, which ranked as one of the league’s best last year despite the team’s struggles. A move for Kaepernick without being able to put any real talent around him, could prove to be yet another disaster for Cleveland, which probably means we should expect exactly that to happen.

Then there are the Jets, who are hanging on the periphery of the conversation surrounding Kaepernick. Many believe they’re simply floating themselves as suitors for other quarterbacks to bring the price down on last year’s starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is currently a free agent. But maybe New York should be more serious about bringing in Kaepernick.

Of the three teams in pursuit, they have arguably the most talent on offense to put around him, bolstered by the recent signing of running back Matt Forte. With Forte in the fold, and Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker positioned as their top two receivers, the Jets have the makings of a dynamic offense. Fitzpatrick could probably make it work well enough get them to the postseason. But is he ever going to take the franchise much further than that?

New York has an opportunity right now to obtain a quarterback with a much higher ceiling, who already has a history of postseason success. Sure, Kaepernick is a risk. Maybe those days of playoff triumphs are behind him and the limitations he’s shown as a player the last two seasons are who he really is now. But at age 28, just entering his prime as a quarterback, it’s hard to write him off just yet.

For a team on the cusp of the postseason with a strong defense in place and all the weapons on offense needed to succeed, in need of that one boost to get to the next level, it’s a risk worth taking.

COWBOYS FINALLY MAKE AN ADDITION

While two of their three biggest rivals went on their respective shopping sprees Wednesday, the Dallas Cowboys sat on the sidelines, a position that has become all too familiar for a franchise that was once known as the league’s most free-wheeling.

But on Thursday the Cowboys finally landed the first real piece of their free agent crop, inking former Eagles defensive tackle Cedric Thornton to a four-year contract. Thornton joins the Cowboys after four years in Philadelphia, where he started all but three games over the last three seasons. During that span anchoring the Eagles defensive line while playing both inside and out, he logged 171 tackles but just four sacks.

His pass rush skills are suspect, but Thornton is widely regarded as a run stopper. He’ll slide into the 1-tech spot in Dallas 4-3 defense, alongside Tyrone Crawford, giving the Cowboys a formidable interior defensive line designed to stop the run.

That’s all well and good for a Cowboys team that allowed an average of 121 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked them in the bottom 10 in the league against the run. Dallas has also re-signed linebacker Rolando McClain on a one-year deal, and his return — should he be able to stay both clean and healthy — should further bolster their run defense in the middle.

But the Cowboys still have a litany of needs on the defensive side of the ball and they start with the pass rush. Defensive ends Greg Hardy and Jeremy Mincey are both free agents while Randy Gregory is suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season and Demarcus Lawrence is coming off back surgery.

On Wednesday, several key free agent defensive ends came off the board, including Jason Pierre-Paul remaining in New York, Miami’s Olivier Vernon signing a record-breaking to join him with the Giants and Houston’s Mario Williams replacing Vernon in Miami. That has left slim pickings for the Cowboys. Dallas doesn’t have any visits currently scheduled with defensive ends, though they’ve lingered on the periphery of talks about Chris Long.

They could try to address the position in the draft, and will likely be in prime position to select Ohio State’s Joey Bosa at No. 4 overall. But Lawrence and Gregory, both second round picks, have proven that pass rushing rookies don’t have much impact in their first season. With that in mind, the Cowboys better figure out something quick, or their defense is going to suffer.

OFFER SHEETS BEGIN TO ROLL IN

With many of the top unrestricted free agents off the board at every position, the second wave of NFL free agency usually features some moves by teams to steal restricted free agents away from their teams. So far, two such moves have taken place, both in the AFC East.

Work broke mid-day Thursday that the Miami Dolphins, fresh off losing running back Lamar Miller to Houston, had signed Broncos restricted free agent running back C.J. Anderson to an offer sheet worth $18 million over four years. It’s a smart move by new Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who has familiarity with Anderson from his time in Denver and could get his lead back into the fold in Miami for significantly less than Houston paid Miller.

Denver now has five days to match the offer or let Anderson walk to Miami without compensation, after the Broncos placed the lowest tender on Anderson earlier in the week. It’s a conundrum for Denver, as they are still searching for a quarterback and have already lost several key members of the defense that led them to a championship in February. Making matters more complicated for the Broncos is the fact that the Dolphins frontloaded the offer, so Denver will have to move some money around just to match it. Those circumstances make it seem likely that Anderson might be moving to Miami in short order.

Also receiving an offer sheet late this week was Buffalo Bills restricted free agent wide receiver Chris Hogan, who is reportedly signing a three-year, $12 million offer sheet from the division rival New England Patriots.

The 6-1 220-lb Hogan has emerged as an outstanding pass catches for the Bills over the last two seasons, hauling in a total of 77 passes for 876 yards despite being a tertiary option in the Buffalo offense. He would be a phenomenal fit in New England, where quarterback Tom Brady loves to spread the ball around and is in need of a complementary option to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman in that regard.

The contract offer to Hogan is reportedly heavily guaranteed, putting the Bills in a tough position. Buffalo is plenty familiar with these type contracts. It’s the same way they stole tight end Charles Clay away from the rival Miami Dolphins last year. Turnabout is fair play and it looks like the Bills, who are unlikely to match the contract, are going to be on the short end this time.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys