When ESPN first reported that the NFL had put together a workout-tryout session for Colin Kaepernick, the circumstances seemed odd indeed. The league had settled its lawsuit over alleged collusion over Kaepernick’s continued unemployment over the winter, and any new involvement in his employment status called into questions what the league’s motives might be. Making it even more curious was the league’s insistence that the tryout had to be on a Saturday, when most head coaches and GMs would preparing for a game the next day, and the NFL’s refusal to offer any alternative dates.
ESPN’s Ryan Clark and Desmond Howard smelled a “disingenuous” rat earlier today:
All of those concerns seem valid, but if the NFL didn’t want Kaepernick to play, they could have just stayed out of it. Why meddle with the status quo if the league liked the status quo, especially after all the settlements had been made? Note that this isn’t just approval of a private combine, but instead a league event — even if the arrangements are a bit weird.
One possible explanation exists for this, including the strange scheduling, the demand for a combine in the middle of the season, and the unprovoked outreach — which is that the NFL needs someone to hire Kaepernick ASAP, for whatever reason. It might not be a lawsuit, but it could have to do with its player relations. Kaepernick had a lot of friends in this league and supporters who have mainly quieted down and stopped embarrassing the league, and they may be making it clear that they expect some payback now for their cooperation. Plus, the league and the NFL Players Association will shortly begin working on a new collective bargaining agreement, and an unemployed Kaepernick might make that a lot more difficult.
Consider this perhaps-coincidental report that emerged the day before the league announced the Kaepernick event:
Cowboys defensive end Michael Bennett reportedly said Monday that his new teammates in Dallas, not team owner Jerry Jones, convinced him to start standing on the sidelines during pregame renditions of the national anthem.
Bennett, one of the league’s most outspoken players on social issues, as well as a prominent advocate for Colin Kaepernick’s return to the NFL, had been staging forms of protest during the anthem since the 2017 season. When he was acquired last month from the New England Patriots, he reportedly reached an understanding with Dallas, and Jones said at the time, “I’m satisfied that, in Michael, we’ve got a player who knows how we do it here with the Cowboys.”
Sure enough, in his first two games with his new team, Bennett was seen standing on the sidelines as the anthem was being performed. With the Patriots earlier in the season and with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, he stayed in the locker room, and he sat on the sidelines while with the Seattle Seahawks in 2017.
Did Bennett just suddenly throw his friend under the bus, or was he the last piece to fall into place for Kaepernick’s return? Outspoken ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith is hearing that this tryout is mandatory, as will be an offer from some team shortly thereafter. The only way Kaepernick doesn’t get an offer after Saturday’s workout is if he can’t throw the ball — or if he can’t keep his big mouth shut:
“Only Colin Kaepernick can mess this up, it’s beyond all that other stuff now.”
— Golic and Wingo (@GolicAndWingo) November 13, 2019
“There’s only two things that will prevent Colin Kaepernick from having a job in the NFL,” Smith said. “That is one, if he shows up Saturday and can’t throw the ball on the damn football field, he’s throwing the ball in the stands. He’d have to be that God awful not to get a legitimate look and potentially have a job next week.”
He continued to explain the second thing, which is that Kaepernick needs to stay quiet in the days leading up to the event.
“The other thing that could be a hindrance is if he opens his damn mouth and starts talking too much, and scares these teams off and gives them the indication that more of what transpired, that led to all of this, will continue forward,” Smith said. “Only Colin Kaepernick can mess it up. It’s beyond all of that other stuff now. He needs to shut up. No Instagram. No Twitter. No anything. Show up Saturday, work out. Don’t say a word before then.”
There’s no shortage of QB shortages, so to speak, and it had been odd that Kaepernick didn’t get too much consideration before now. The Steelers might have first thought their season would be a wash after Ben Roethlisberger’s departure to deal with the baggage Kaepernick carries, but they’ve improved to 5-4 with a faltering offense and two largely untested QBs. If they want to make a move for this year’s playoffs, getting an experienced (and well-rested) passer for the rest of this season would make some sense. Other teams with QB injuries or flops are in the same boat, maybe especially winless Cincinnati, although it’s tough to see why Kaepernick would choose to land there. Better to go to a team with some offseason potential now, especially one that can protect its QBs.
Ironically, the biggest interest might come from the Patriots, who could need a multi-year QB sooner than they imagine:
According to a league source, the #Patriots will have a representative at QB Colin Kaepernick's workout Saturday in Atlanta.
— Jim McBride (@globejimmcbride) November 13, 2019
Bill Belichick and the Patriots have become known for scooping up talent that has been on the outside looking in for whatever reason, and Kaepernick could be next. It’s hard to imagine Tom Brady leaving this offseason, but La Canfora reported last month that if Brady does elect to leave, the Los Angeles Chargers . Brady’s contract is structured to void in March, and he cannot be franchise tagged. It’s worth noting that Brady and the Patriots structured it that way in order to provide extreme flexibility should a new collective bargaining agreement be finalized early in 2020, as many are anticipating, that could have new measures for computing the salary cap charges on quarterbacks and could have benefits for both team and player. It’s also entirely possible that Brady could call it quits following this season, which means the Patriots would be in the business of finding their next starting quarterback. Kaepernick isn’t considered someone who can lead a team into a new era, but he’s a leader who could tutor Jarrett Stidham or a young quarterback New England drafts in a later round.
CBS also has Chicago, Carolina, and maybe even Dallas on their lists, but it seems more likely that teams with serious injury issues would be the most likely choice. That would give other teams a half-season to evaluate Kaepernick’s play as well as his comportment, leaving him open for bigger contract negotiations in the offseason.
At any rate, the message from the league appears clear enough. They want the Kaepernick drama to end, especially ahead of that 2020 renegotiation of the collective bargaining agreement. If Kaepernick can still throw, and if he can keep his mouth shut, he’s coming back.