At the start of the 2019 NFL season, the drama surrounding Colin Kaepernick's continued unemployment within the league seemed relatively settled.
Kaepernick had not played an NFL snap in three years, had settled his collusion case against the league, and had spent time working as an activist and teamed up with Nike for a few popular ad campaigns.
While Kaepernick's name would still get brought up regarding teams looking for help at quarterback, and Kap himself had posted a video citing his workouts and readiness to take the field, the fervor surrounding his potential return to the NFL had largely faded.
That all changed last Tuesday when the NFL sent a memo out to teams across the league saying that Kaepernick would be taking part in a workout in Atlanta that coming Saturday. An NFL source told Business Insider that “several” teams had expressed interest in Kaepernick's football readiness.
For a moment, it felt as though Kaepernick might finally have his best, last shot at returning to the NFL, but that feeling quickly faded as the original workout fell apart on Saturday. The NFL made demands Kaepernick wasn't inclined to agree to, prompting Kap to move it to another location on short notice, with fewer teams than initially expected in attendance.
Eventually, Kaepernick threw and ran through drills at Charles Drew High School, with one NFL executive telling ESPN's Adam Schefter that the former 49ers quarterback showed he still had “elite” arm talent.
—Adam Best (@adamcbest) November 16, 2019
“I've been ready for three years,'' Kaepernick said after his workout. “I've been denied for three years. We all know why I came out here. [I] showed it today in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide. So we're waiting for the 32 owners, 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all of them stop running. Stop running from the truth. Stop running from the people.”
Unfortunately for Kaepernick, it feels as though we're further from that reality than when the week began.
What started as a promising sign that Kaepernick might get a shot at an NFL roster spot quickly devolved into a debacle that reanimated the debate surrounding his initial departure from the league, with all sides involved somewhat at fault.
Roger Goodell and the NFL come off as demanding at best, and conspiratorial at worst.
After the initial surprise that the NFL's announcement caused, almost every other detail that came out regarding Kaepernick's coming workout brought more confusion as to how and why exactly it came together in the first place.
Kaepernick tweeted that he was “just getting word” about the workout shortly after the announcement, raising the question of why he wasn't fully informed of the opportunity before the public. According to The Ringer's Ricky R. Tynes, the request for Kap's workout came “out of the blue,” rather than as the result of some ongoing negotiation.
Despite the short notice Kap was given, the NFL was reportedly stringent regarding the details of the workout. The showcase was scheduled for Saturday in Atlanta, but according to Tynes, Kaepernick's camp asked if they could push it to Tuesday. They believed it would bring a better turnout than a Saturday that would have team scouts already busy covering college football. The NFL refused. Kaepernick's camp then asked if the workout could take place the following Saturday, giving the team's more notice and time to prepare. Again, the NFL refused.
When Saturday finally came around, Kaepernick called an audible and moved the workout outside of the NFL's purview after refusing to their terms, including the exclusion of media and the requirement that he sign a waiver that would protect the league from future lawsuits from the quarterback.
While the league tried to pass off the waiver as a part of standard operating procedure, once the media got ahold of the agreement, red flags were immediately apparent. According to a copy of the three-page document obtained by NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk, the league included language regarding Kaepernick's employment status that could have barred him from accusing the NFL of collusion or retaliation.
In the wake of the waiver becoming public, Charles Robinson at Yahoo! Sports called the NFL's proposed workout a “Trojan horse.”
“The NFL's weapon was the waiver planted inside it,” Robinson wrote. “And a sweeping victory was one Kaepernick signature away.”
Coaches, general managers, and owners across the league didn't come across well either.
By Thursday, 11 teams across the league had committed to sending representatives to watch Kap throw. That number grew to 24 by Saturday, but after his decision to opt-out of the NFL's offer in favor of holding his workout, just eight teams wound up seeing Kaepernick run through drills in person, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Some teams blamed the short-notice change of location for their absence. Others said they weren't interested. Pete Carroll said, per ProFootballTalk, the Seahawks had planned to have someone attend, but “we couldn't stay with the changes that happened.”
One of the supposed reasons the NFL chose to host Kaepernick for a workout was that teams had inquired about his interest and readiness but were hesitant to host a workout for him on their own, according to NFL Network's Steve Wyche.
“They wanted to know — apparently these teams are calling the NFL — Kaepernick's readiness,” Wyche said. “But they weren't willing to bring him in for a workout, even though it was suggested to bring him in. 'Why are you calling us? You guys bring him in?' These teams wouldn't bring him in, so the NFL said, 'OK, we're gonna do this for you.'”
But to Panthers safety Eric Reid, who took part in the protests alongside Kaepernick and also joined him in his collusion case against the NFL, that justification rang hollow. The sudden interest of 25 teams in Kaepernick after years of giving him the cold shoulder felt more like a set up than an actual audition.
—Eric Reid (@E_Reid35) November 18, 2019
Had any teams been willing to workout Kaepernick the past three years, this likely could have been avoided. Whether due to a desire to avoid the media storm that would come with hosting him, or a desire not to cross the NFL after Kaepernick had sued the league, that never happened.
Media covering the debacle didn't have a great week.
Since his protests against police violence and racial injustice in the judicial system, coverage of Kaepernick has been anything but tepid. Whether commentators came out in support of his cause, in opposition to it, or even if they attempted to remain objective observers, the nature of covering Kaepernick tended to verge into the extreme — a fact that proved true once again this week.
“You don't want to work,” Smith said. “You just want to make noise. And you want to control the narrative. It's over. Colin Kaepernick's asperations for an NFL career, it's over.”
Reid fired back, saying that Smith was “Tap dancing for the NFL,” and argued that the league had never operated in good faith. From there, Smith escalated his furor, posting a series of tweets imploring Reid to “wake the hell up,” among other things.
Other media members fired off questionable takes of their own, from Rick Reilly's ill-advised McDonald's metaphor to a particularly painful segment on CBS' “NFL Today” during which the hosts seemed either unaware of or uninterested in the legitimate concerns regarding the NFL's motivations behind the workout.
Not every take was that bad — at Fox Sports 1, Nick Wright offered a balanced, nuanced perspective on Kaepernick's decision to opt-out of the NFL's workout during a five-minute monologue on “First Things First” on Monday.
—nick wright (@getnickwright) November 18, 2019
Regardless of where you fall on the topic, Wright's take goes more to show that in a situation with as many moving parts and different interests at stake as this, it takes more than a single tweetstorm or 30-second news hit to make a strong point.
Colin Kaepernick was not exactly a winner either.
Kaepernick felt confident with his decision to host a workout after details of the waiver were made public. However, there were still some level-headed members of the media who noted that the way he proceeded through the weekend might have assured he would not play in the NFL again.
“The way teams are on this, they don't want a distraction,” said The Ringer's Ryen Russilo, while discussing Kaepernick with former NFL defensive end and 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Chris Long. “And for me, Kaepernick just convinced the rest of the league that he would be nothing but a massive distraction.
Long largely agreed with Russilo's sentiment. “I'm pro-Kap. I've been pro-Kap from the beginning,” Long said. “But if the NFL was playing a PR game, he gave them the game. And I hate that because I want him back in the league. He deserves to be back in the league.”
“He should never be having to jump through these hoops, period,” Long said. “The reason this is going on is because he was blackballed. But here we are three years later, and he's having to ace the PR thing, … He's having to ace all this, and get 100% on this test, and this test shouldn't even have to be taken.”
Even those who agreed with Kaepernick's cause seemed convinced that chances of him getting another shot had likely gone down.
Somehow, Jay-Z is involved in all of this also.
While the entire situation surrounding Kaepernick's workout was still unfolding, somehow, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z got brought into the mix.
Jay-Z had caught criticism earlier in the year after linking up with the NFL as a part of a joint entertainment and social-justice deal. Jay-Z had been an outward supporter of Kaepernick's protests when they were a hot topic of conversation, having worn a Kaepernick jersey during a performance on “Saturday Night Live” in 2017.
After the league made its shocking announcement of Kaepernick's first workout, reports began swirling that Jay-Z had somehow been involved in helping to make it a reality. The NFL Network's Ian Rapaport said Jay-Z “had some influence,” on the matter.
When Kaepernick decided against taking part in the NFL's workout, Jay-Z reportedly was left frustrated with the quarterback. Sources told TMZ that the rapper felt as though Kaepernick squandered a legitimate opportunity to showcase his abilities to NFL teams and instead turned it “into a publicity stunt.”
Roc Nation denied that Jay-Z had made any such comments.
Regardless of Jay-Z's actual feelings and level of involvement concerning Kaepernick's second chance at the NFL, it's pretty clear he came out of the situation worse for wear.
After all that, we're pretty much back where we started.
And so, after a whirlwind week of offers, counter-offers, accusations, and statements, things haven't changed all that much from where we stood before this whole debacle began.
Kaepernick is still without a job — a reality that feels unlikely to change any time soon.
The NFL still prefers to keep his politics away from its brand. Teams around the league say that they might agree with his cause but would rather avoid a distraction in the locker room. Reporters and commentators still tweet. Jay-Z still has an odd, somewhat murky relationship with the NFL.
The NFL's offer to Kaepernick was unprecedented, Kaepernick flipped the script, and we all wound up back at square one.
If anything, the past week served as proof of something we've already known for some time — Colin Kaepernick likely has the talent to play quarterback in the NFL, but that was never the real issue in the first place.