The contrast between the video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds and images of Colin Kaepernick peacefully protesting by taking a knee is stark — and difficult to reconcile.
Almost four years ago, Kaepernick made headlines by kneeling during the U.S. national anthem to shine a spotlight on police brutality and racial injustice. Back then, Kaepernick’s protest was seen as politically controversial. It was an election year, and the gesture was co-opted to be interpreted as a protest of the military and the American flag. Now, with Floyd’s killing becoming a flashpoint in the dialogue about race, the perspective on Kaepernick’s stance has shifted.
That shift became clear two weeks ago when Drew Brees was widely criticized for saying he will “never agree” with players who peacefully protest during the national anthem the way Kaepernick did, something Brees has said dating back to 2016. In less than 24 hours, not only did Brees apologize, but he also called out U.S. President Donald Trump for taking issue with kneeling.
Brees’s wasn’t the only backtracking apology on the matter. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a video on June 5 apologizing on behalf of the NFL for not doing a better job of listening to players’ concerns on racial inequality, even saying the words “Black Lives Matter.” Afterward, Goodell was criticized for not mentioning Kaepernick by name.
This past Monday, however, Goodell didn’t just say Kaepernick’s name, he supported him.
“Well, listen, if he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it’s going to take a team to make that decision,” Goodell said. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that.”
That’s the biggest endorsement Goodell has made in regard to Kaepernick, as he previously passed the responsibility of the quarterback’s employment to individual NFL clubs. There is no indication that Kaepernick doesn’t want to resume his career, so with a major roadblock seemingly out of the way, the next question becomes where that resumption could take place.
Teams at Kaepernick’s November 2019 workout included the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans. So we know there was at least some interest from those teams not that long ago.
But who else should take a long look at Kaepernick? Here are destinations where he’d be a great fit on the field, in the locker room and in the community.
Seattle is the perfect combination of a progressive owner, with a progressive coach, with a veteran locker room, in a progressive town. Plus, the NFC West team knows exactly how good Kaepernick was in his prime with the San Francisco 49ers.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has not only spoken out about the social justice issues Kaepernick was protesting, but he revealed last week he regrets not signing Kaepernick. Carroll took a look at him in 2017, which is the strongest public interest in Kaepernick since he left San Francisco. The excuse Carroll used for not signing him was that Kaepernick was overqualified and could’ve actually still been a starter. Carroll also claims that a team has recently reached out to him about Kaepernick.
With Geno Smith as Russell Wilson’s backup, Seattle could use the football upgrade in their QB room and would welcome the message it sends in signing Kaepernick.
Los Angeles Chargers
You’d think the Chargers would pass on Kaepernick as they didn’t explore a relationship with Cam Newton earlier this off-season, but that seems to be far from the case.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn told reporters Wednesday that Kaepernick is on the team’s “workout list” this summer. Lynn said the Chargers are happy with their three current quarterbacks but that: “Colin definitely fits the style of quarterback for the system that we’re going to be running.” He went as far as to say teams “would be crazy” not to have him on their workout list.
The “workout list” is not a tangible, physical document like the negotiation list is in the CFL, so theoretically anyone could say Kaepernick is on their proverbial workout list.
The three quarterbacks the Chargers currently have on their roster after parting ways with Philip Rivers are closer to good than they are great.
First-round pick Justin Herbert is the long-term answer as the Chargers chose him with the sixth pick in April’s draft after a stellar collegiate career starting 42 games at Oregon. In Kaepernick, the Chargers would have the ability to be patient with Herbert. Tyrod Taylor, L.A.’s presumptive Week 1 starter, threw just six passes last season and his last start was Week 3 in 2018. Easton Stick is third on the depth chart and has zero career pass attempts after being a fifth-round pick in 2019.
The Ravens don’t need Kaepernick, as they are being led by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson at quarterback, but stylistically the offence is a perfect fit for Kaepernick. No coaching staff is more familiar with Kaepernick as a football player and a person.
Greg Roman is the offensive coordinator in Baltimore and built the system that made Kaepernick a star in San Francisco. Head coach John Harbaugh is the older brother of Jim Harbaugh, who was running the 49ers when they took a chance on Kaepernick in the draft and turned the team over to him, culminating in a run to the Super Bowl in February 2013.
The read-option system that Baltimore has in place for Jackson was first used to perfection by Kaepernick, and with quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Trace McSorley listed as backing up Jackson, the Ravens clearly want similarly styled backups.
No team has a more unclear quarterback situation than Jacksonville, and the team’s lack of urgency addressing the need is head-scratching. You could make the argument that even a washed-up Kaepernick would be a more viable option than any of the current Jacksonville signal-callers.
Second-year starter Gardner Minshew II exceeded expectations as an emergency fill-in for Nick Foles in his rookie season, throwing for 3,271 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He outplayed an injured Foles, but has a low ceiling. Meanwhile, backup Mike Glennon is a 30-year-old journeyman on his fifth NFL team and third-stringer Joshua Dobbs has appeared in just five games in three seasons with Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.
There is no reason why Kaepernick couldn’t compete for a starting role in Jacksonville.
Shad Khan is one of two minority owners in the NFL and wrote an op-ed on his team’s website addressing many of the same issues Kaepernick is passionate about. Khan wants the Jaguars to become an international brand, which is why they repeatedly play home games in England. Signing Kaepernick would do more to elevate the brand worldwide than any games at Wembley Stadium.
New England Patriots
Second-year quarterback and current projected starter Jarrett Stidham has thrown four passes in his NFL career. Of course, nobody is expecting a replication of the level Tom Brady played at in New England, but it’s far from certain Stidham can help maintain the Patriots’ championship level. Behind him is career journeyman Brian Hoyer, now on his fourth tour of duty in New England. It’s clear the Patriots’ QB room could use some insurance.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was able to scheme up Tim Tebow when he was head coach in Denver, and the chance to reimagine their offence now that the immobile Brady has moved on could mean utilizing Kaepernick’s rare skill set.
Culturally, the “do your job” Patriot way might be an uncomfortable PR fit, but Bill Belichick has recently turned his meeting times over to his players to engage in social justice talk.
If Belichick could find a way to make Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth and Randy Moss fit in the team culture, Kaepernick, the ultimate Patriot, shouldn’t be an issue.
Nobody knows the value of a reliable backup more than the Steelers. Their 2019 season was all but lost when starter Ben Roethlisberger underwent elbow surgery after Week 2. Mike Tomlin spent the rest of the season trying to tread water with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges leading the way.
Thanks to good coaching, stellar defence and a decent run game, the Steelers somehow went 8-6 over their last 14 games, despite the fact their backups combined for 18 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
What better spot to for Kaepernick to play than for an outspoken, established black head coach in Tomlin with strong control of the locker room and the media message?
It’s important to note the Rooney Rule is named after Dan Rooney, the former Steelers owner who died in 2017, and the man who chaired the league’s diversity committee. The Steelers and the Rooney family have always led on diversity issues, hiring black players and coaches well before it was the norm.
With a starter who is 38 years old and injury prone, and a track record of being on the right side of history, the Steelers would be a great fit.
General manager and coach Bill O’Brien recently proclaimed he’ll be kneeling to protest social injustice next season, so he clearly won’t have an issue with Kaepernick doing the same.
As the team’s final voice on personnel matters, O’Brien has the authority to unilaterally sign Kaepernick. Current backup A.J. McCarron is an unspectacular option behind Deshaun Watson, and unlike McCarron, Kaepernick plays quarterback in a similar style to Watson.
The symbolism of Kaepernick playing in Houston, the same city George Floyd is from, would be a nice way for the conversation to come full circle.