Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who for nearly three years has struggled to resume his NFL career after kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, has been invited to work out for teams Saturday at the Atlanta Falcons' facility so they can evaluate whether to sign him, according to a copy of a memo to the league's 32 teams that was reviewed by The New York Times.
“Earlier this year, we discussed some possible steps with his representatives, and they recently emphasised his level of preparation and that he is ready to work out for clubs and be interviewed by them,” the memo said. “We have therefore arranged this opportunity for him to work out, and for all clubs to have the opportunity to evaluate his current readiness and level of interest in resuming his NFL career.”
Kaepernick, 32, and his representatives were notified Tuesday of the league’s invitation and were told they had two hours to confirm that he would attend the workout in Flowery Branch, Georgia, according to a person familiar with the discussion who requested anonymity. That person said the representatives were confused about why the workout was slated for a Saturday, when teams travel to away games, and asked that it be moved to a Tuesday, when teams usually hold their workouts, but that request was denied by the league.
The invitation was first reported by ESPN. Kaepernick’s representatives have requested a list of NFL teams planning to attend, the person said, and if they are satisfied with the number, he will work out on the field and do interviews, the person familiar with the discussion said. The memo said that the workout and any interviews would be recorded and the video made available to every team.
On Tuesday evening, Kaepernick tweeted: “I’m just getting word from my representatives that the NFL league office reached out to them about a workout in Atlanta on Saturday. I’ve been in shape and ready for this for 3 years, can’t wait to see the head coaches and GMs on Saturday.”
In February, Kaepernick settled a grievance against the league that accused teams of colluding to keep him out of the NFL because of his protests during the 2016 season. He has not played since starting 11 games for the San Francisco 49ers that season, when the team finished 2-14.
Since then, Kaepernick and those around him have continued to lobby for a job in the NFL. A month before the start of the regular season, Kaepernick posted a video to social media touting his preparation for a return to the field. “5am. 5 days a week. For 3 years. Still Ready,” he said on Twitter.
His agent, Jeff Nalley, issued a news release in October stating that Kaepernick had visited Seattle in the spring of 2017 as the Seahawks searched for a backup to Russell Wilson but that no other team has worked him out or interviewed him. Nalley did not respond to a voicemail message left on his cellphone or to a text message.
For Kaepernick, this weekend could represent his best, and perhaps last, opportunity to play again. NFL teams regularly hold workouts for free agents, cycling them through their facilities as they churn the bottom of their rosters. Teams also hopscotch the country in the spring to assess college prospects before the NFL draft. But none have brought in Kaepernick over the last two seasons, and it is rare for the league, outside of its scouting combine, to hold a workout and invite all 32 teams.
Kaepernick first barged into the national consciousness because of his football skills, showcasing his passing acumen, arm strength and elusiveness after replacing an injured Alex Smith as the 49ers' starter in 2012 and leading the team to the Super Bowl, which it lost to the Baltimore Ravens. The following season, Kaepernick helped the 49ers reach the NFC championship game. But by 2016, despite throwing for 16 touchdowns and four interceptions while averaging 6.8 yards per rushing attempt, he had become better known as one of the more polarising athletes - if not public figures - in the country.
While Kaepernick has not been on the field, he has loomed large over the league. Since his departure, several players have emulated his protest during the anthem. Some continue to cite him as an inspiration, and musicians have said they will not perform at the Super Bowl because they believe the league has effectively blackballed Kaepernick.
When protests during the anthem consumed the league early in the 2017 season, US president Donald Trump said players who do not stand for the song should be fired. In August, Trump told reporters that he thought Kaepernick should be hired "if he's good enough."
Kaepernick's scheduled workout comes during a particularly trying year for quarterbacks in the NFL, as a slew of injuries has pushed backups into starting roles and magnified the dearth of candidates at the sport's most glamorous position. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts abruptly retired before the start of the season because of injuries, and stars like Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints have missed significant time.
None of them has missed more time than Kaepernick, and this weekend he may move closer to the NFL than he has been in a long while.
- NY Times