Fall Saturdays typically belong to college football. When it comes to the NFL and its dysfunctional relationship with Colin Kaepernick, however, nothing is typical.
Saturday was the day Kaepernick had, in theory, been waiting for — the first day of the rest of his NFL career. Earlier in the week, the league set up a workout for multiple teams to come see what the 32-year-old former San Francisco 49ers star quarterback had in the tank after nearly three seasons out of the league.
To Kaepernick (and anyone who’s paid attention to the NFL’s clumsy handling of any and all complicated, high-profile issues) the whole thing stunk from the beginning. Why was this rushed workout happening now, out of the blue, in the middle of the season?
Why on a Saturday, not on a Tuesday — the off-day for NFL teams — when all 32 teams could attend? We were finally past the point of uttering “Colin Kaepernick is still available” every time a starting quarterback either went down with injury or played ineffectively.
That’s why Kaepernick, even though it was inconvenient for all involved, called a last-minute audible and moved the venue from the Atlanta Falcons’ practice facility to an aptly-named high school field nearly 60 miles away — which only happens when operating under the assumption this whole thing was a set-up.
Given that a second workout site was set up with security preparations for Kaepernick’s seamless arrival today, it’s fair to assume that — at the very least — he arrived in Atlanta knowing a Saturday morning fight with the NFL was imminent. There was clearly a Plan B in place.
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) November 16, 2019
The Kapernick camp was told the NFL would be providing a list of executives attending, then, as Saturday approached, told the camp it had never agreed to such a provision. On Saturday, no exec ranked high enough to greenlight a signing or secondary workout planned on attending.
— Full Dissident (@hbryant42) November 18, 2019
It was equally obvious the NFL either mistrusted or was trying to manipulate Kaepernick. Allowing his camp to film his own workout doesn’t hurt the league in any way, nor does granting his request to throw to his own receivers. Both sides tried to control the process and the narrative surrounding it — with Kaepernick literally calling out the league — and both came out looking worse in the end.
Unpopular take: There’s fault on both sides. The NFL never should have announced this workout until ALL the details were final and agreed to. And Colin has to accept that he can’t call every shot. Right or wrong, the NFL is — and always will be — bigger than one player.
— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) November 17, 2019
Firsthand accounts of what unfolded in Atlanta on Saturday are everywhere and most people will believe whatever falls in line with whichever side of the controversy they agree. There’s a compelling case to lay the blame for the circus atmosphere on Kaepernick, but that ignores a very underrated aspect of this situation.
Kaepernick’s return to the league clearly rests on his ability to humble himself before the mighty NFL and capitulate to any and all stipulations, no matter how asinine or inappropriate. The NFL is banking on his desperation to play pro football at its highest level to outweigh his pride and principles, though he’s demonstrated at every turn he’s just not that dude.
The NFL, like most bullies with some prestige, count on that desperation to help put their target in a no-win situation. Kaepernick, though far from perfect in his execution, wrested control of the situation and stood his ground, even if it’s ultimately to the detriment of his playing prospects.
Lost in this dramatic episode, Kaepernick’s actual workout went well.
After today’s workout in Atlanta, an NFL executive at Colin Kaepernick’s throwing session said his arm talent is “elite” and is the same as when he came out of college. He said that Kaepernick threw the ball well.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 16, 2019
The Redskins were among the eight teams that made it out to the amended workout site, which is curious to say the least. Even though Kaepernick would be a good football fit in Washington, the team has spent the last two seasons floundering at quarterback instead.
The ‘Skins are a lost 1-9 trainwreck in large part because they made their bed at that position. The injured Alex Smith is a salary cap albatross at least through 2020, regardless of whether he recovers from his gruesomely broken leg. Now that first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins is finally in the lineup, it’s time to find out if he’s the long-term solution for whatever poor soul is doomed to coach the team next season.
Furthermore, Redskins Park would be a bad place for Kaepernick to try to resume his playing career. Attaching himself in any way to the “damn good” culture and still-controversial nickname would be a bad look for a public figure whose second act is dedicated to social justice.
Maybe the Eagles, Chiefs, Jets, 49ers, Lions or Titans — the other teams confirmed to have attended the workout — roll the dice at some point in the offseason. Philly and Kansas City, which employ the Andy Reid offense that took Nick Foles from backup to Super Bowl MVP, would be great fits, and lord knows Tennessee could use Kaepernick to get the awful taste of the failed Marcus Mariota experiment out of their mouths, if only for a year or two.
But the NFL arguably needs Kaepernick more than he needs the league. While he’s currently more famous than he ever was as an NFL player, quarterbacks that look and play like Kaepernick are leading the MVP conversation.
If the former Super Bowl QB were at the helm of, say, the Titans — a team with a good defense and rushing attack in a wide-open division — Kaepernick’s twice-per-year duel with Watson for playoff contention could be the kind of rivalry the league loves to promote.
But if any team had the stones to make that move it would have been done already. This whole episode was probably a test run to see if an interested team could bring him in without the media circus.
And even though I believe any abnormal attention would eventually die down — especially if Kaepernick were signed in March, long before the start of meaningful practices, let alone games — this weekend did absolutely nothing to disprove that fear.
“We’ll be waiting to hear from Roger Goodell, the NFL, and the 32 teams,” Kaepernick said Saturday to the assembled throng of reporters after his workout.
“We will let you know if we hear from them. The ball’s in their court.”
And that’s where it will stay.
Both sides got what they wanted, but not what they deserved: The NFL gets to use this self-manifested farce as the reason why they’re done with him once and for all, while Kaepernick remains the blackballed martyr in the eyes of many, but still without a contract.