Don’t smear Miami Dolphins for passing on Colin Kaepernick

What if the Dolphins’ decision came down to these two? (Getty Images)

The backlash is coming. Some of it will hit the Dolphins tonight, and it’ll probably be a full-blown controversy by Monday morning.

Why did they choose Jay Cutler over Colin Kaepernick?

That’s the question that seems to dog every team that doesn’t pick Kaepernick, with the implication being that his national anthem protests are costing him football opportunities. And there might be some legitimacy to that suspicion, but it’d be highly unfair to throw accusations at the Dolphins for their recent choice.

For starters, no owner in the league has been as outspoken in his support of protesting players than Stephen Ross. He held a rare media availability in the locker room at last year’s season opener specifically to make sure everyone knew he had the backs of Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills, Jelani Jenkins and Arian Foster when they knelt during the anthem on Sept. 11 of all days.

Ross has upheld that support ever since, and if Stills and Thomas want to protest in the same way this season, there’s no doubt they’re free to do so.

Kaepernick’s name actually came up with Ross about a week before Ryan Tannehill went down. He was asked whether the ongoing saga of Kaepernick’s free agency made him think NFL teams were blacklisting a perfectly capable quarterback.

“I would sure hope not,” Ross said. “I know a lot’s been written about it, but you know owners and coaches—they’ll do anything it takes to win. If they think he can help them win, I’m sure—I would hope they would sign him.”

It would’ve been interesting to see if that applied to Miami had Cutler opted to stick with his broadcasting job. While the Dolphins wouldn’t have held Kaepernick’s activism against him, there’s a Miami-specific issue that would’ve complicated things: Kaepernick wore a Fidel Castro t-shirt to a press conference last year and voiced support for some of his principles, and that’s unacceptable in South Florida.

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended and ultimately lost his job in 2012 over similar comments. Heat owner Micky Arison drew criticism last April when his Carnival Cruise Lines made a deal for access to Cuba that included a ban on Cuban-born people from buying tickets, and the policy was quickly reversed.

There are Cuban communities throughout the United States, but none as prevalent as South Florida’s. It never came to this since the Dolphins targeted Cutler from the onset, but if they’d passed on Kaepernick on those grounds alone, it’d be justifiable.

Ultimately, though, this decision wasn’t about any of those things. Cutler was the best option for the Dolphins because of his familiarity with coach Adam Gase, and that’s valuable when the regular season is a little over a month away.

Gase doesn’t have to project anything with Cutler; he has a clear grasp of what he’ll get from him in this offense. He knows his mechanics and preferences, and he knows how to tailor the playbook based on that.

On paper, Kaepernick and Cutler aren’t that different. They’re within three points of each other in career passer rating, they’re both around .500 and both were dumped by dreadful teams that believed they’d be better off without them.

Cutler was good in his last healthy season. Under Gase in 2015, he completed 64.4 percent of his passes, threw for 3,659 yards and had 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a career-best 92.3 passer rating. If Gase is confident he can get performance along those lines out of Cutler this year, that’s the sound choice.

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