Ryan L. Fox
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, an African American quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, made national headlines all over the USA when he began to kneel during the national anthem to protest the abuse of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Following that season, he opted out of his contract with the 49ers and has been out of football since then while continuing to continue his protesting. Some believe that he was not able to play since then because NFL owners were blackballing Kaepernick.
Fast forward to 2020 after the George Floyd protests as the NFL came forward to say that they were wrong in how they handled the silent protesting in 2016 and 2017 by NFL players and would be more than willing to work with minority groups to end systematic racism. While Kaepernick’s name has reappeared in sports headlines, there is some buzz being generated about the possibility of him making a comeback in the 2020 season.
There are definite mix feelings towards Kaepernick. Some think of him being disrespectful for his kneeling during the national anthem. Others think he is a patriot for standing up against systematic racism and police brutality towards minorities, especially towards African Americans.
Now pretend you are the general manager of team X in the NFL. Your quarterback situation is so-so and you are thinking about trying to upgrade at the position. With all that is going on in the USA right now with and with the NFL saying they were wrong about how they handled Kaepernick and his protesting, the question that you are faced is do you bring in Colin Kaepernick for a tryout with the possibility of signing him to your team for the 2020 NFL season?
As much as this can turn into a political debate, we're going to be focusing on more of the football aspect of this scenario.
As a quarterback, Kaepernick playing style fits an offensive that heavily favors the run or an RPO (run pass option) style offense. He had that success in 2012 and 2013 while under the coaching of former 49ers and current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. The only team in the NFL that runs that style of offense are the Baltimore Ravens since their offensive coordinator Greg Roman was actually Kaepernick’s offensive coordinator at the time from 2011-2014 when Kaepernick enjoyed the most success in his NFL career. But outside of the Ravens, everybody else relies more on multi-receiver offensive sets and just throwing the ball all over the place. This could work against Kaepernick since there are some questions about his throwing accuracy (career completion percentage of 59.8).
Not to mention that with the COVID-19 outbreak and teams just getting back to their team facilities, he’ll face an even bigger uphill scale to just learn the basics of your team’s offensive playbook and the terminology in very limited time before the start of the regular season.
Next, you gotta think about the media storm that you are going to put yourself and the team through. You know full well that half your fanbase is going to support you and praise you for bringing in Kaepernick while the other half will outright boo and boycott you for bringing him in. You also have to worry about how your coaching staff will react, how players will react, and even how the team owner(s) is going to react. But the big test is when you decide to cut Kaepernick from the team because you know some people will rally to say you cut him because you didn’t want to deal with him or that you were afraid of him.
The best way you can go about this, as general manager, is first run it by your team owner of what you are trying to do. Then you follow that up with team meeting with both players and coaches, explaining that this isn’t a public stunt but you are looking at this from a football perspective. When it comes to dealing with the media, both local and national, you need to do your best Belichick impression and simply say it is merely a football move and you are simply doing your due diligence and nothing more. And should things not work out between your team and Kaepernick and you do have to cut him, just simply say it was a football decision followed by that it was unfortunate things didn’t work out as you hoped and then finish it with you wish him the best of luck. It’s as diplomatic as you’re going to get with that response.
Then there is the contract negotiation aspect. Back in 2017, Kaepernick was in the middle of a 6-year, $114 million contract extension he signed with the 49ers back in 2014. He ended up declining a $16.9 million player option for the 2018 season, thus making him a free agent. There have been multiple reports that there were a few teams that wanted to sign him (most notably, the Seattle Seahawks) but they could not agree on a contract amount.
There have been other reports on how Kaepernick would not sign with the AAF or XFL due to contract negotiations (including him wanting $20 million to play in the AAF). Your best bet is to just sign him to either the veteran’s minimum or just perhaps a one-year deal (around the $2-5 million range) with stipulations built in (i.e. an extra $500k for throwing 2,000+ yards, an extra $1 million for 25+ touchdowns) that can raise his salary for the season.
Finally, you will need to focus on Kaepernick’s playing abilities and skills. As we all know, Kaepernick has been out of football for over 3 years and really hasn’t laced up the cleats for other than a small workout here and there. There is definitely going to be some questions about whether or not there is some rust. Then there’s the player’s physical ability. Yes, he had that workout last year where a few NFL team scouts attended (regardless of the circumstances of the whole thing). But throwing a few slant passes to a couple of kids and a couple of long balls is a lot different than practicing actual plays from a playbook and going against a defense.
You’re going to be faced with a lot of questions. Can he read still read NFL defenses at a high level? Can he quickly go through his offensive reads and check downs before a defender gets to him? Will his timing be off when throwing the ball to his receivers? Has his accuracy gotten any better or has it decreased since he last played? Can any sort of rust be fixed by coaching? These are somethings you need to keep in mind as a general manager. At least one positive thing to look at through all this is that Kaepernick should be 100% healthy and rested so you won’t have to worry about any sort of injuries he might have.
So whichever NFL GM decides to bring Kaepernick onto there team will undoubtedly be the focus of everybody’s attention, both good and bad. But more importantly, will Kaepernick be able to revive his NFL career after a 3-year hiatus. This is one NFL story line in 2020 that definitely will be talked about the most.
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