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Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is happy with his progress as he rehabilitates his leg injury.
George Walker IV/The Tennessean

Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews lost his brother in Afghanistan, so when he publicly criticized Colin Kaepernick, his former college quarterback, for kneeling during the national anthem last season, his words carried extra weight.

But given time, Matthews’ perspective has changed. And he says there’s no doubt the lingering controversy is why the former 49ers quarterback remains a free agent.

“Being somebody who’s had a family member pass away in the military, I think a lot of people, even myself, looked at it the wrong way,” Matthews told The Tennessean on Thursday, in an about-face on the cusp of Memorial Day weekend. “But if you take a deeper perspective on it and understand what he’s doing, I think that he’s doing a great thing and I think that he’s definitely not on a team because of that.”

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Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and the oppression of minorities in the United States spurred similar displays across the NFL and sports world at large. Several Titans last season routinely raised their fists after the national anthem in a show of solidarity.

Matthews, who led the Titans in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns last season, said Kaepernick’s protest has left the quarterback blackballed from the NFL.

“That’s the reality, whether you want to believe it or not,” Matthews said. “That’s the reality of it. I think he was a great quarterback, and I mean, he went to the Super Bowl. There’s other quarterbacks – not to dog any quarterbacks – but there’s other (lesser) quarterbacks on teams right now and the fact that he doesn’t have a job is kind of (messed up). I don’t know the contract situation, everything involved with it. But I think overall, the No. 1 reason is obviously what…