Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
The spectacle began with a phone call that shocked Colin Kaepernick and almost every team in the NFL—an offer from the league for the long-deposed quarterback to work out at a makeshift pro day Saturday.
With the call, the awkward dance between the NFL and a player many view as a heroic figure resumed over whether his exile from the league will end.
On Thursday, the NFL announced that 11 teams—the Cardinals, Falcons, Browns, Broncos, Lions, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Buccaneers and Washington—”have already committed to attend,” and the league expects “additional teams to commit” between now and Saturday. Some teams, like the Saints, have said they aren’t interested.
While the seemingly haphazard manner in which NFL has planned this gives rise to questions about the league’s intentions, two team executives told B/R they believe the interest in Kaepernick is real, and if he throws well, he’ll be on a team by the end of the month. These executives believe the underlying purpose of the pro day is to signal to teams that they are clear to sign Kaepernick.
Despite the awkwardness of how the plan was rolled out with no warning, the execs think the NFL is sincere in what it’s doing and attribute the timing as a product of a bumbling league rather than an attempt to trick Kaepernick. But the details surrounding the plan and its out-of-nowhere announcement have some around the NFL questioning the league’s motives.
According to people close to Kaepernick, the offer left them wondering what the hell had happened. It was the first time the NFL had spoken with Kaepernick’s representatives in more than a year. They were given a two-hour window to accept the offer, and the workout was scheduled for Saturday.
The plan was somewhat curious and frantic. A private pro day seemed unprecedented in recent NFL history. These types of workouts are usually only reserved for college prospects. The date was also unusual. Most free agents work out on Tuesdays since few scouts and team executive are traveling that day. On Saturdays, most teams are prepping for Sunday’s games.
To Kaepernick, the entire situation seemed more like a public relations stunt than a sincere opportunity. And he wasn’t alone in feeling blindsided.
One NFC West front-office executive said he initially thought it was a prank when his team heard about what the league was doing.
Other teams were shocked as well. Three team executives reached by B/R all said they had never heard of anything like this in their professional careers. Two of them said they were uncertain if they could attend because of their Saturday travel schedule.
The situation took another bizarre turn Wednesday night.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that after initially agreeing to provide a list of executives who were attending the workout, the NFL said it wouldn’t. A league source denied to Schefter that it ever promised such a list. Schefter also reported that some team executives called Kaepernick to apologize that they wouldn’t be able to attend and told him they were unclear about why the league was even having the workout. B/R was able to confirm these details.
Craig Ruttle/Associated Press
Approximately 48 hours before Kaepernick was scheduled to work out, it seemed like much of the NFL’s plan lacked, shall we say, sincerity.
Kaepernick began his protests three years ago over how he felt racial minorities were being treated in the country, a movement that both riveted and divided the nation. He opted out of his contract with the 49ers in 2017, and after not receiving even a single contract offer for months afterwards, he filed a grievance last year against the NFL, claiming that owners colluded to keep him out of the league. Kaepernick and the NFL eventually settled the case.
Despite the apparent olive branch offered this week, many people remain skeptical of the NFL’s intentions.
Panthers safety Eric Reid, a former teammate of Kaepernick’s who started the protest movement with him, told reporters this week, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” adding what the NFL was doing “feels like a PR stunt.”
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has worked on social-justice issues with the NFL, also expressed reservations about the NFL’s motives.
“I have my doubts about the league,” Jenkins said, per Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Now the league can say, ‘Look, we gave you a chance.’ I’d be naive to not be leery.”
As the week progressed, the entire thing was looking like it might be a bit of a scam on the NFL’s part. And it left a lot of questions:
Why did the league handle this so awkwardly in the first place?
Why were teams kept in the dark on this?
Does Kaepernick have a genuine chance to return?
Answers have not been easy to come by.
Tony Avelar/Associated Press
Teams have privately stated that they believe the NFL doesn’t want history to view it as the anti-hero in this story. One NFC West team executive said that while he thinks at least two teams are seriously interested in signing Kaepernick, he also believes that all of this is a trial balloon, or cover, to see how the public reacts to the idea of Kaepernick re-entering the league.
In the end, the Kaepernick story will go down as one of the best—and lowest—points in league history. The fact that Kaepernick chose to use his power and platform to bring attention to an issue that is vital to millions of people of color was undoubtedly one of the bravest acts in league history. To many communities, he is a bona fide hero.
On the other hand, he lost his career because the NFL allowed—or perhaps dictated—it.
But another chapter in this story is developing, and it might lead to Kaepernick getting back into football.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.