When Colin Kaepernick emerged from silence earlier this offseason and mounted what looked like another campaign for a shot at a comeback, eyebrows raised around the NFL. Talent evaluators and coaches – even those once sympathetic to the exiled quarterback’s plight – questioned the timing.
Why, after more than five years away from the game and nearly three years after balking at the Roger Goodell facilitated tryout, was Kaepernick, now 34, talking comeback again, they wondered. Legitimate longing for a return? Publicity stunt with his latest book set to release?
Kaepernick had deviated from his typical operate-in-silence approach, given a handful of interviews and directed a pointed message at NFL teams.
“I can help make you better,” he said. “I can help you win games.”
The message remained consistent with the stance he had maintained ever since going unsigned in 2017 and getting passed over every offseason since. But not only were there questions of the legitimacy of his desire to play football, and not just remind the world of his iconic and sacrificial stance against racial and social injustices. The other question involved whether anyone who really mattered – anyone with signing power – was truly listening.
Now, just less than two months later, it appears someone was as the Las Vegas Raiders on Wednesday brought Kaepernick in for a workout – his first since he became a free agent in 2017, and his first since NFL owners colluded against the quarterback because his peaceful protest of kneeling during the national anthem angered some fans and then-president Donald Trump and threatened their earning potential.
We can debate the legitimacy of intentions behind Goodell’s 2019 showcase, where scouts from all 32 teams were supposed to attend only for Kap to back out believing the waiver he signed was designed to help the NFL avoid litigation for black-listing him.
But this opportunity seemingly passes the smell test because of who and when it’s taking place.
The Raiders are a team owned by Mark Davis, who is on record saying that if his coaches and general manager wanted Kaepernick, he would “welcome him.” Davis is a man, whose father was always known for going against the grain and doing whatever it took to position his team for success.
Davis also owns a team whose quarterback position does not rank among the strongest in the NFL.
Yes, the Raiders have a starter in Derek Carr, who this offseason signed a three-year, $121.5-million extension. But to describe Las Vegas’ depth chart of Nick Mullens, Jarrett Stidham and Chase Garbers as shaky would be generous.
The Raiders have invested heavily in fortifying new head coach Josh McDaniels’ roster at just about every key position – except for quarterback.
Team officials believe they have a roster worthy of a deep playoff run. But one awful blow to Carr would destroy all of those efforts. Smart general managers understand that it often takes two legitimate quarterbacks to contend in this league, and none of the three backups fall in that category.
So, after two days of offseason practices, the Raiders potentially have seen enough to know that they need more help at quarterback. What street free agent has the physical abilities and resume that makes him a trustworthy backup? Colin Rand Kaepernick.
Unlike the trio working behind Carr, Kaepernick has experienced success in the NFL. His play from 2012 to 2014 didn’t just help spark the revolution that has made the dual-threat quarterback a highly coveted commodity. He helped the San Francisco 49ers rank among the elite in the league, taking them to Super Bowl 47, where they fell short against Baltimore, and he helped the team return to the playoffs the following year.
Kaepernick saw his effectiveness drop off over the next two seasons – at the same time that new head coaches Jim Tomsula and then Chip Kelly combined to run San Francisco into the ground.
And maybe kneeling or no kneeling, the 49ers would have started fresh at quarterback when Kyle Shanahan took over as head coach. Kaepernick probably sensed this when he opted out of his deal following the 2016 season.
But there’s no way he should have gone unsigned all this time if we’re talking football decisions here. You’ll have a hard time finding anyone in the league who could have told you that with a straight face.
There certainly were people who believed Kaepernick might not have been suited as a starter in a traditional offense. However, anyone who declared that Kaepernick wasn’t fit to serve as a backup for any of the 31 other NFL teams was lying.
There were a lot of bad quarterbacks on NFL rosters from 2017 to 2021. And there are a lot of bad quarterbacks on NFL rosters today. So, even if the 34-year-old Kaepernick has a few inches of rust on him, he’s still certainly not worse than the 64-plus quarterbacks drawing checks as backups.
It appears that the Raiders finally are willing to admit this. They shouldn’t be alone in this admission. But it is what it is.
Las Vegas seemingly offers the ideal situation for a Kap comeback, not only because they have a proven quarterback ahead of him, which will allow for a gradual re-acclimation to the game, but they also have on staff a coach (offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi) that previously worked with Kap in San Francisco. Familiarity would serve both parties well.
Player and team seem to need one another equally as badly.
A workout doesn’t mean a slam-dunk signing. But the Raiders are right to at the very least bring Kaepernick in for an up-close evaluation, which is all the quarterback has asked for.
“More than anything, we’re just looking for a chance to walk through a door,” he said in an interview with the I Am Athlete podcast last month. “I’ll take care of the rest from there.”
The Raiders have taken the long-overdue step in the right direction, and taking the next step of adding the fully-qualified Kaepernick to the roster as Carr’s backup would go a long way toward righting the wrongs of the past, and also positioning Las Vegas to better compete in the NFL.