My first thought when I heard about the NFL’s offer of a workout to Colin Kaepernick – completely out of the blue, choosing voluntarily to thrust one of their biggest headaches back into the spotlight – was one of deep but well-earned cynicism.
It sure felt like a setup. In the words of Kaepernick’s agent, Jeff Nalley, “something didn’t smell right.”
And after seeing the bizarre way in which the event unfolded, well, I still feel that way.
In its clumsy, ham-handed fashion, the NFL set the trap. And presented with this Hobson’s choice, Kaepernick and his camp reacted with enough (justified) suspicion and indignation to reinforce the perception of him as a loose cannon who is not worth the hassle.
If there was a chance of Kaepernick ever playing again after nearly three years of banishment, it might have expired in the aftermath of Saturday’s circus.
Not because Kaepernick is not good enough, mind you. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, scouts who attended Kaepernick’s throwing session said his arm was still elite. Other reports were generally favorable about his conditioning and throwing.
Just look around a league where Nathan Peterman, the personification of terrible quarterback play, got a preseason look-see from the Raiders. Where 51 quarterbacks have started games this year, many of whom don’t have nearly the skill or track record of Kaepernick. Where Philip Rivers and Mason Rudolph threw as many interceptions in their most recent game (four) as Kaepernick did in 12 outings in 2016, his final NFL season (with 16 touchdowns and a 90.7 rating).
Is it because Kaepernick really doesn’t want to play? That’s the spin of many who say Kaepernick should have just acceded to all the conditions put forth by the NFL, kept his mouth shut and thrown the football.
That viewpoint was capsulized by former Steelers coach turned TV analyst Bill Cowher on The NFL Today, who said, “It is about the platform. He does not like football. It is not important to him. He loves the platform.” And, especially, by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who tweeted, “He wants to be a martyr. But, guess what? It ain’t working this time.”
USA Today’s headline on an opinion piece by Mike Jones was, “With workout power move, Colin Kaepernick might have just waved goodbye to last chance at NFL job.”
And, indeed, he might have. But is it really a “power move” if the NFL demands that Kaepernick sign a waiver that, according to some legal experts, could have forfeited his right for any further claims of collusion or retaliation?
Sounds more like a “lack of power” move to me, one that puts into clearer perspective Kaepernick’s decision to shift the workout from the Falcons’ practice facility to a high school about an hour away. Once this happened, about two-thirds of the scouts in attendance (including the rep from the Seahawks) said, “to heck with it,” and scattered for home. The afternoon took on a circus atmosphere.
Now, the two sides differ greatly on whether this was merely a close approximation of the NFL’s standard workout waiver, or one that was designed specifically for the purpose of essentially tricking Kaepernick into giving up his employment protections.
Yahoo’s Charles Robinson wrote, “I believe this is the answer to why the NFL put this workout together. It created multiple outcomes that could all be weaponized against the league’s Kaepernick problem.“
I’d say I’m in the camp of roughly half of America – generally sympathetic to Kaepernick’s quest to get back in the NFL. The other half, of course, thinks his decision to kneel during the national anthem – to call attention to social-justice issues – is inexcusable, and a deal-breaker.
Like just about everything political in this country – and this is a political issue at its core, make no mistake – it’s a canyon of disagreement that would take an Evel Knievel-like daredevil leap to traverse.
Keep in mind that no team asked for this workout, at least according to Nalley. Some have surmised that the NFL was trying to appease its new partner, Jay-Z. Others have speculated that there might have actually been a couple teams interested in signing Kaepernick that wanted some cover in evaluating the 32-year-old quarterback without riling up their fans.
But it’s just hard to fathom that the league, out of the goodness of its heart, suddenly decided to present Kaepernick with a path back to the NFL in the 10th week of the season. If that were the case, they wouldn’t have held the workout Saturday, when few decision-makers could attend, and railroaded the format on such short notice. They wouldn’t have balked at Kaepernick’s request to film the workout themselves, or to let in the media. And they certainly wouldn’t have pressed the waiver issue so hard.
They had to know Kaepernick and his camp would have issues with all this. The resulting confusion, chaos, anger – that’s all to the benefit of the NFL. It muddies the waters, casts Kaepernick as an unreformed troublemaker, and re-raises the question about Kaepernick’s genuine desire to play again. After all, he might not need the money after signing a Nike deal and winning a previous collusion grievance from the NFL for a reported $1 million to $10 million payout.
Or, maybe, Kaepernick simply didn’t want to capitulate to the NFL and accept terms he felt would take away his rights, for the purpose of a sham workout.
Kaepernick is not blameless in this, by the way. If he truly wants to play again, why show up wearing a “Kunta Kinte” t-shirt? That’s not the way to win over a reluctant owner – nor was his strident post-workout statement in which he challenged the NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 owners, to “stop running from the truth, stop running from the people.”
It’s admirable to hold true to one’s principles, but a potential employer is going to want an indication that hiring Kaepernick won’t lead to constant disruptions. As Times reporter Bob Condotta reported, a proposed workout with the Seahawks in 2017 fell apart, according to a source, when Kaepernick was asked what his plans would be for off-field activities if he were to sign.
That’s a fair question. It’s also fair for Kaepernick to wonder last week if he was being set up all along. If so, it appears to have had the desired outcome – minus Kaepernick’s signature. And that still doesn’t smell right to me.