Pete Carroll was eloquent Thursday about the need to strive for social justice and equality — in action, not just words. And the Seahawks’ coach believes the NFL has the platform to influence that movement.
“Because the NFL is as powerful an institution as there is in the country, and this frickin’ league needs to stand up for the right stuff, and make things move where we can make things move,” Carroll said in a Zoom video chat with reporters.
“We have a lot of power. Something happens, and next thing you know the president is commenting on it. We have the platform to do great stuff.”
At this fraught juncture, there’s one thing Carroll and the Seahawks can do now to make a difference (oh, and you can bet the president would comment):
Sign Colin Kaepernick.
It was Kaepernick who in 2016 tried to tell the world about police brutality and systemic racism that has exploded into the national consciousness recently following the police killing of George Floyd. It was Kaepernick who Carroll extolled last week as “a symbol of courage and vision.”
And on Thursday it was Carroll who said he regretted not signing Kaepernick when the Seahawks had a chance in May 2017, when they were the first (and still only) team to work out the quarterback after he left the San Francisco 49ers.
“When you look back, I felt like we missed the opportunity,” Carroll said. “I wish we could have figured it out, knowing what we know now, and give him the chance, because I would love to see him play football all those years.”
Here’s the golden opportunity for Carroll to right that wrong, and to provide the NFL, that omnipotent institution, with a powerful symbol to show that commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent words about the league’s epiphany on social justice was not just rhetoric.
Carroll insisted Thursday that concern over Kaepernick’s divisive protests during the national anthem were not what dissuaded them in 2017. He said what he’s always said: The Seahawks didn’t sign Kaepernick back then because, basically, he was too good. Carroll felt he deserved a chance to showcase himself as a starter, and of course the Seahawks had a firmly ensconced starter in Russell Wilson. Who is, of course, even more firmly ensconced now.
Well, how about letting Kaepernick make that call? After three years removed from the NFL, one would think that if Kaepernick, at age 32, truly wants to return to the league — admittedly an open question — he’d accept that the only realistic avenue would be as a backup.
Carroll said he is happy with the Seahawks’ quarterback situation, which solidified with the recent re-signing of Geno Smith to again be Wilson’s backup. Signing Kaepernick, he said, “is not really available at this time for us. … We’re kind of set up right now, so football wise it doesn’t seem to fit us, but there’s a lot of time here. We’ll see what happens.”
That last part tells me the door’s not closed. Carroll also added, “I’ve said this ongoing for years — if Russ ever got tangled up and couldn’t play or something, Kaep would have been an extraordinary candidate to take over because of the dynamics of his play.”
What is the purpose of a backup quarterback except to be ready if the starter gets “tangled up?” So why not bring Kaepernick in, let him learn the Seattle system and see if he can beat out Smith? Hasn’t Carroll’s steadfast motto been, “Always compete?” Here is a chance to bring real competition to the quarterback job behind Wilson. If the coach feels as strongly as he says he does that Kaepernick belongs in the league, why not back it up?
If it has always been a “football decision,” as Carroll repeated, then it seems there is more than enough of a football reason to bring in a guy whom he praised Thursday for his character, his talent, his “smarts” and his competitiveness. Sounds like someone you’d want in your program.
Maybe the long layoff has atrophied Kaepernick’s talents. In that case, the Seahawks could cut him. Maybe Kaepernick truly is happier outside the NFL as an advocate. It wouldn’t hurt to find out. In his prime Kaepernick was one of the most dynamic players in the game. He was super human in a playoff win over Green Bay. He led San Francisco to a Super Bowl and nearly won it. Even in his final year of 2016, when he lost the starting job to Blaine Gabbert, Kaepernick had 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. His inability to get a job has never been about ability.
If the Seahawks back then were privately worried about the impact of Kaepernick’s presence on Wilson, who wasn’t quite the megastar he is now, well, that’s taken care of as well. There would be no quarterback controversy if Kaepernick comes aboard. He would be a pure insurance policy behind the seemingly indestructible Wilson. Smith has played a grand total of 10 games — two starts — over the past five seasons, so it’s not like he has this vast edge in readiness.
Of course, if this happens there would be backlash from a segment of the Seahawks’ fan base who abhor that Kaepernick protested during the anthem. But Carroll talked about how these recent events that galvanized the nation also validated to the masses that Kaepernick’s message was genuine.
“The first thing we know is Kaep was right on point,” Carroll said. “He was right on it on the topics about police brutality and inequality. It’s so obvious now that all of the flak that flew about not honoring the flag and all those other things, that were not even a part of the demonstration or what his intent was at all. That skewed the whole discussion.”
In other words, it’s time for someone in the NFL to have the courage of their convictions and give Kaepernick a chance. Why not the Seahawks?