Will Colin Kaepernick Return to the NFL in 2020?

The recent realization of social injustice has many speculating the QB may finally be signed

The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery has caused many individuals around the world to finally realize the struggles African-Americans face on a daily basis. The ongoing protests surrounding the injustices African-Americans must deal with is causing change. People are having an awaking. More and more people are supporting these protests. More and more people are finally understanding that black lives matter. This trend is even continuing into the world of sports, including the NFL. Recently, the National Football League announced it’s plan to donate $250 million over ten years to “combat systemic racism and support the battle against the ongoing and historic injustices faced by African-Americans.” The NFL coupled that with an apology video coming from commissioner Roger Goodell. In the video, Goodell stated “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” Goodell also went on to say “We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”

The apology video has some speculating the authenticity of it however, due to the absence of one man’s name: Colin Kaepernick.

While many were upset at the nonappearance of Kaepernick’s name in the video, I personally did not put much weight in it. I assume the reason Kaepernick’s name wasn’t mentioned, was because of legal obligations. After an ongoing collusion case, which saw Kaepernick go up against the NFL, was settled, both the league’s and players’ lawyers stated “the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances” and that “there will be no further comment.” Essentially, the speculation can be made that a confidentiality agreement was inserted into the solution. Thus meaning the NFL cannot mention anything surrounding the reason why Kaepernick was not signed.

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Kaepernick began kneeling during the 2016 season to bring attention to police brutality. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The video shouldn’t hold any value in the sense of it meaning Kaepernick will continued to be ignored by the NFL. If anything, the video, donation, and ongoing protests should shed some hope on Kaepernick finally making a return to the league. The narrative around Kaepernick has shifted. More people now realize why he was protesting in 2016; and more players are inclined to protest this upcoming season.

That doesn’t mean all concern around signing Kaepernick is gone however. Two main worries stick out above the rest.

First, does Kaepernick even want to play in the NFL anymore? Well according to Pro Football Focus yes. PFF stated “Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Kaepernick is in great shape, and he wants to play. He is more motivated to play than ever.” So that concern can be thrown out the window.

The second worry surrounding Kaepernick is his ability. Can he still play at an NFL level after four years out of the league? I believe he can. The 32 year old quarterback isn’t too old, and still has some prime years remaining. Doubters like to point at the QB’s last season as a starter and say he went 1–10, and was benched for Blaine Gabbert. The 1–10 record was hardly on Kaepernick however.

That 49ers team was terrible. Most quarterbacks would have struggled to win games with that roster. The team’s leading receiver was Jeremy Kerley, who finished his career never having more than 850 yards in a season. He finished 2016 with 667 yards. The second leading receiver was Quinton Patton, who finished with 408 yards. Patton finished his four-year NFL career with 880 yards total. The offensive line was ranked last in run blocking (32nd), and 30th in pass protection according to Football Outsiders. San Francisco’s defense wasn’t any better either. The 49ers allowed the most points per game, the most rushing yards per game, and the most total yards during the 2016 season. Add all of that up, and you have a team with the second overall pick after going 2–14.

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Kaepernick was hardly the biggest problem for the 49ers in 2016. Brian Bahr/Getty Images

During the 11 games he started in 2016, Kaepernick was the least of San Francisco’s concerns. The QB finished the year with 2,241 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. He also added 468 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Those numbers are solid considering the lack of talent Kaepernick had surrounding him. You may continue to discount those numbers because they were four years ago. Can he still perform now is the real question. Well it’s tough to definitively say yes. However, just going based off Kaepernick’s recent workout, the talent is still there. After the QB’s workout, Adam Schefter reported “an NFL executive at Colin Kaepernick’s throwing session said his arm talent is ‘elite’ and is the same as when he came out of college. He said that Kaepernick threw the ball well.”

Kaepernick’s ability is still evident. Yet some teams may still be cautious about bringing in Kaepernick. I believe it will take the right situation for Kaepernick to get signed. Any team that signs Kaepernick is going to bring him in as a backup. Therefore, that team must have a proven starter, where one bad game won’t lead to chants of “put in Kaep.” The team must also be expected to compete for a playoff position. I don’t believe the lower tier teams will bring in Kaepernick. Instead they’d focus on drafting and developing a quarterback. Four main teams represent the best fit.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the first team that comes to mind for Kaepernick. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion, and the obvious starter. However, injury is a concern, and the backup quarterbacks last season proved Pittsburgh needs a proven starter in case Big Ben goes down again.

The Houston Texans would also be a fit for Kaepernick. Deshaun Watson is clearly the starter, but injury concerns surround the QB. If Watson went down, Kaepernick would prove to be a better option than A.J. McCarron, who has 1,153 total yards in his career.

Kansas City could be another landing spot for Kaepernick. There’s no debate when it comes to Patrick Mahomes. His talent is off the charts, and no QB controversy would arise. However, last season Mahomes got hurt, which could cause KC to look at Kaepernick as an option. He’s a more talented option than current backup Chad Henne, whose last season starting came in 2014.

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Kaepernick showed he still has “elite” arm talent during his workout. Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

The Minnesota Vikings are the fourth option when it comes to possible teams for Colin Kaepernick. While Kirk Cousins gets some disrespect still, his numbers can’t be denied. He’s the clear cut starter in Minnesota, especially after another contract extension. The Vikings roster is filled with talent as well. But if something happened to Cousins, the Vikings would be left starting Sean Mannion, who has 384 total yards in his five-year career. Kaepernick would give Minnesota a much needed backup option behind Cousins.

Other teams like the Falcons, Titans, and Seahawks could be possible options; but the four teams mentioned above would be the best fits.

The real question now is will any of those teams sign Kaepernick.

It’s difficult to say yes or no. This is perhaps the best chance Kaepernick has to get signed. The climate in the NFL surrounding social injustice is changing. Owners are okay with peaceful protests. But why would a team sign Kaepernick now if they didn’t for the past four years? His talent level didn’t miraculously change from 2017 to now. If anything there would be more concerns with a longer absence from the sport. So why now? It’s because of the feeling surrounding the anthem protest then versus now. If a team signs Kaepernick this season, it essentially shows the only reason the QB wasn’t signed was because of the kneeling. Will the NFL admit that sentiment by signing Kaepernick this year? We’re all just going to have to wait and see.

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University at Buffalo ’20 | BA in Communication | Writer for The Sports Scientist

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