It has been just over 1, 000 days since Colin Kaepernick, the embattled and ousted quarterback, last played in the NFL. There has been no reason to believe he would return to the game. Teams haven’t called for him. Only players, activists, socially aware fans, and athletes from other sports have advocated for him to rejoin the NFL from almost three years of unemployment. But on Tuesday night, the league provided an unexpected wrinkle in the timeline of Kaepernick’s career. The NFL asked Kaepernick to work out in front of the league’s power brokers. The circumstances, however, are yet widely unknown.
According to a league source, all 32 teams were sent a memo on Tuesday stating that a private workout would be held for Kaepernick in Atlanta this Saturday. The session is to include an on-field workout — conducted by the league’s own scouting personnel, not the crews Kaepernick has worked with daily for three years — and an interview with team representatives. Every team was invited, but attendance is not mandatory. The workout and interview will not be open to media members, per the source. The league currently doesn’t have a gauge on how many personnel from individual teams will attend. The session will, however, be videotaped and sent to those who don’t attend. Several clubs, according to the source, have reportedly inquired about Kaepernick’s “football readiness” and would like to determine that for themselves in person.
Given Kaepernick’s continued pressure on the league to respond to his long-stated desire to return, the NFL decided it needed to take action. Kaepernick and his representatives have stressed that in the past three years he has never had a true workout with an NFL team, despite having prepared for the opportunity. Earlier this year, the NFL held discussions with its member clubs and Kaepernick’s representatives on steps it would take to facilitate a workout for the quarterback, according to two sources. The result of those talks is the announcement of Saturday’s workout, the first time Kaepernick will be able to directly present to NFL teams.
But the league’s messaging came out of the blue, according to another source with direct knowledge of the negotiations. Kaepernick’s team was contacted sometime Tuesday by NFL representatives explaining the request. Most free-agent workouts happen on Tuesday. According to the source, Kaepernick was told that the NFL needed a response “in two hours” if he was serious about the opportunity. Kapernick and his representatives scrambled to rearrange their schedules to fit in the request, but several around Kaepernick wondered why it came in such an urgent manner. For one, a Saturday tryout conflicts with the regular NFL scouting of college football games; for another, forcing high-end NFL personnel to get on flights to and from Atlanta hours before Sunday’s kickoffs seems likely to limit the number of attendees. “It didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” the source told me.
Kaepernick’s representatives, according to a source, asked NFL brass whether they could reschedule the workout for Tuesday. They were told no. Kaepernick’s reps also suggested rescheduling for the following Saturday, so at least teams had time to plan accordingly. They were told no to that too. “It didn’t seem tethered to anything,” the source told me. Still, Kaepernick and his reps expressed that if the process would be legitimate, and key decision-makers from all 32 teams would be present, then the quarterback would participate in the process. They asked the NFL to provide a personnel list. The NFL said it would get a list to Kaepernick’s representatives on a “rolling basis.” According to a source, Kaepernick anticipates getting those lists, which he expects to feature representatives from every NFL team, by the end of the week.
Kaepernick made calls to his lawyers Tuesday night to strategize and gain clarity on what was happening beforemaking a public statementconfirming the details of Saturday’s workout. Up to this point, a source says, there has been no direct communication between Kaepernick and the league. A source from the NFL Players Association told me that the NFLPA felt the workout was long overdue and a well-deserved chance for Kaepernick.
It is helpful to remember how this all began. For the past few years, Kaepernick has been protesting the racist structures that are pervasive in America, including the extrajudicial killing of black citizens by police officers. In his last year in the NFL, he used the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before football games as a cudgel for protest; subsequently, he was served death threats by fans, decried by his fellow players, and lambasted by politicians. He hasn’t played an NFL game since 2017.
The timing of the NFL’s proposed workout is odd, given his detractors ’claims that he is ill-equipped to play in the modern NFL. One of the easiest dishonest swerves in the rhetoric surrounding Kaepernick went from the idea that he wasn’t good enough to play NFL football to the idea that he was unfit to return because he’s been out of the league for so long. He recently turned 32 years old. He has the 23 rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second -best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. Only 16 players are above Kaepernick in career adjusted yards per attempt: 10 are current starting quarterbacks in the NFL, four are Hall of Famers (Otto Graham, Steve Young, Kurt Warner, and Joe Montana), and the other two are Peyton Manning and Tony Romo. And yet he still needs a glorified pro day in Atlanta to prove his merit.
There is no additional context to support why the NFL, after having largely defanged player protest from within, would suddenly open a window for Kaepernick to reenter its ranks. The quarterbacksettledwith the NFL earlier this year on his blackballing grievance, a case that silenced him but didn ‘ t break him. Kaepernick filed the grievance in October 2017, months after he went without a deal from any NFL team, on the basis of collusion. The resolution was sealed away behind confidentiality agreements. After nearly three years of protest and provocation, war with the NFL’s legal team, and constant reminders about his unemployment, Kaepernick has finally been presented with an opening to return to the NFL.
At the Atlanta Falcons’ facility on Saturday, Kaepernick’s measurements will be taken; he’ll stretch and warm up; he’ll be timed and tested in an array of quarterback-related drills. He’ll likely be asked questions about his character and his protests. He is being strung up as if he is a fresh-faced draft prospect, new to the league and trying to make it in the world of professional football. One might assume that this may represent Kaepernick’s last chance to come back to a league that has always wished to silence his voice on the social injustice that is pervasive in this country — the same league that he has long believed denied him the opportunity to profit from his talent. Clearly, an NFL job is something he wishes to regain by any means necessary.