We all can, and do, have opinions about the Colin Kaepernick workout story. Mine: Here’s a guy who asked for teams to work him out for the past two years, and though the arrangements Saturday weren’t to his exact liking, the NFL arranged to have 20 or so teams at the Atlanta Falcons training facility for his first workout in front of NFL scouts (low-level ones, mostly), with the agreement that a video of the workout would be available for every GM and coach and staff in the league to see. That wasn’t good enough, in the end. Kaepernick had a problem with the waiver he’d have to sign. (I’m told this waiver is essentially the same one a tryout wide receiver, say, would have to sign to work out for a team during the season.) He didn’t trust the NFL to send the complete videotape to the teams. He didn’t trust that the NFL motives were pure—inviting scouts to see him work out when the league never does it for anyone else. One … excuse … after … another. Does someone dying for a tryout place all these obstacles in front of him at age 32, and then cancel the NFL workout and move the workout to a high-school field 60 miles away, while his last chances to play in the NFL fade away more and more by the day? If that were me, and I were dying to get back into the NFL, I’d show up and show those NFL scouts how wrong they and their organizations have been—whether this was a real tryout or something that allowed the NFL to say it tried.
But my opinion is meaningless. I don’t make NFL decisions. It’s more important to find out what the decision-makers think. I called a couple of veteran and smart NFL people (no names, positions or teams, to ensure frankness) in the 24 hours after the workout blew up.
I am going to paraphrase three points that I learned.
1. Is a backup quarterback worth this? Maybe he won’t be a backup for long; and maybe if he signed with a team like Cincinnati he’d have a good shot to win the starting job in 2020. But lay the cards out on the table. Nobody had worked him out in more than two years. The NFL said some teams were interested in working him out, but I don’t know if that’s true. I hadn’t heard a single bit of buzz about him as a football player this year. Not a syllable. One person kept wondering why he wouldn’t approach this workout this weekend, regardless of his disgust for the NFL, with the seriousness of a player longing to play pro football.
2. You may be surprised at this, but I believe there is some (slight) NFL interest. I told one of the two NFL people: Remember Kaepernick’s last year for the 49ers, 2016? Worked very hard, was cooperative with the press, gave social-justice opinion, kneeled before games, but he was dead-serious about winning and practice and being a team leader. I think it will take Kaepernick saying he’ll come in as a football player for the six or seven months of the preseason and season, leaving his political and social-justice pursuits for the offseason. I don’t know about the kneeling part. It’s obviously going to be a sore spot in some markets and with some teams. Gut feeling: I bet sometime in the next six months (we probably will not find out about it) Kaepernick meets very quietly with a team.
3. One person I spoke with said he thinks three coaches would fit with Kaepernick: Frank Reich of the Colts (nothing bothers him, and he’s a good teacher), the Chiefs’ Andy Reid (signed Michael Vick out of Leavenworth, doesn’t care about fires outside his door), and Bruce Arians/Byron Leftwich in Tampa (good teachers, tough-love guys). This person stressed to me how important it was that Kaepernick go to a place that would allow him to focus on football and learn football and get back into a football regimen after three or so years away. The most interesting thing in this regard is the person wondering how long it had been since Kaepernick was hit. By the time he signs, if he does, would it be 40 months since he played the game of football?
It’s easy, of course, for me to say, Just suck it up and play, dude. But Kaepernick is wired differently. I thought something I read Sunday night, from Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic, was smart and relevant.
“It has been clear for years the league doesn’t want him in it,” Thompson wrote. “And suddenly, the league is extending an olive branch days before Week 11? That reeks of a setup in the works.Yet I’d do it anyway. Because I’m just a guy. I wouldn’t feel big enough, strong enough, to take on a multibillion corporation. I would know I was being hustled but just take the chance I was wrong. Because, in the end, what other option would I have? Some forces feel too great. Some defeats seem too inevitable. This is how most people feel. You take what you can get. Often, you settle for what is less than you deserve. You put up with what you know is wrong because it is not as bad as it could be. I’d tell myself this is the best I can hope for. I’d talk myself into being grateful for the chance. I’d likely call it a blessing, the whole time knowing I’m probably getting played. Who am I not to not take an olive branch if the NFL, holder of dreams, offers one?
“But this is why Colin Kaepernick is different, and so beloved. This is why I find him inspiring. He just refuses to bend, to compromise his beliefs.”
Something smart to consider, whatever you think of Kaepernick’s decision on Saturday.