Any teams averting themselves from Colin Kaepernick because of a potential distraction have a message from Chip Kelly: Kaep was fine in the locker room.
OK, that’s merely the paraphrase of Kelly’s comments to Sports Illustrated’s MMQB about the quarterback. He wasn’t necessarily speaking to NFL executives, but he certainly was backing up Kaepernick amid ongoing discussion about why the former 49ers starter is still unsigned. (Including that he’s vegan — though more prominently that he sat-then-then knelt for the national anthem before games last season.)
“There was zero distraction,” Kelly told The MMQB. “He met with the team immediately after (his first protest). He met with the other team leaders. He explained his position and where he was coming from. And literally, that was it. Colin was focused on football. He was all about the team and trying to help us win.”
While the 49ers did little of that last year under Kelly — going 2-14 overall, 1-11 with Kaepernick — Kelly still strongly backed up the QB.
“Do I think he is one of the top 64 quarterbacks in the world? There is no question,” Kelly said. “Does he have the ability to play quarterback on a winning team in the NFL? There is no question.”
That sounds reminiscent of fellow former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who said he thinks Kaepernick will “win championships.”
Still, Kelly essentially dismissed the other popular theory about why Kaepernick remains a free agent: his skill does not suffice. Some, like former NFL GM Charlie Casserly, agree with that assessment.
Questions persist about Kaepernick’s situation in the NFL, though not about Kelly’s opinion of his protest.
“He’s shedding light on a situation that is heinous and shouldn’t happen in this country,” Kelly said in September. “We all have inalienable rights as a citizen of this country and they’re being violated, and that’s what I think Colin is standing up for.”
The distraction aspect of Kelly’s more recent comments is also not a new development, per se.
“He understands what his job is. He’s balanced it really well and managed it really well,” Kelly said of Kaep in September. “He’s focused. He’s dialed in when we’re at practice, he’s dialed in when we’re in meetings.”