“I saw there was a report other teams were interested in Colin but they reached out to the league about it. That’s strange,” Reid told reporters (via ESPN). “They don’t call the league.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he added of the workout for Kaepernick, who has been unable to latch on with a team since parting ways with the 49ers in March 2017. “At this point, it feels like a PR stunt.”
The NFL invited all 32 of its teams to the workout, which will be held Saturday at the Atlanta Falcons’ training center and will be closed to the public and the media. It’s unclear how many teams will send representatives — at least a few indicated on Wednesday that they will attend — but the unusual arrangement invited speculation that it was designed to shield individual teams from revealing that they have a legitimate interest in at least kicking the tires on Kaepernick.
The 32-year-old quarterback has been a polarizing figure since 2016, when he became the first player to protest racial injustice by refusing to stand during pregame renditions of the national anthem. It has struck more than a few observers as hardly coincidental that 2016 was also his final season in the league, even as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has insisted that teams would have signed Kaepernick if they felt he could help them win.
Belying that stated position has been the parade of other free agent quarterbacks, most with much less impressive résumés than Kaepernick, getting signed since 2017. That helped create an impression that teams feared a backlash from the segment of NFL fans and others outraged over what they saw as his disrespect to the U.S. flag and to the military.
Thus Saturday’s workout could reasonably be seen as a way for certain teams to explore a Kaepernick signing without taking a public-relations hit from those opposed to his protests, while also giving the NFL a chance to show critics that it is not intent on ostracizing him at all costs.
Some of that cost was borne in a February settlement with Kaepernick, for an undisclosed amount, after he filed a grievance accusing team owners of colluding to punish him for his activism. Reid, who was among the first to join Kaepernick in his protests and himself went unsigned for several months and was part of that grievance settlement, pointed out Wednesday that a rash of quarterback injuries this season have forced teams to give starts to a number of backup-quality players, while “Colin has never gotten a chance.”
If the workout leads to Kaepernick actually getting signed, then it will prove to have been more than a public-relations gimmick, and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith predicted that exact outcome Wednesday. Smith said on “First Take” that he was “told” Kaepernick would have to “throw the ball into the stands” or “run his mouth incessantly” for him “not to have a job in the NFL within the next week or two.”
Elsewhere on the program, Smith said he had “heard” there were “two teams that were definitively interested in him that called the league office about him.”
ESPN’s Dan Graziano reported Wednesday that “several teams have been in contact with the league office to ask about Kaepernick’s status” and that “the league has grown tired of telling teams they’re free to find out for themselves.”
However, if the NFL is sincere about helping Kaepernick return to the fold, it doesn’t appear to be putting him in the best position to succeed. Just as the world learned Tuesday that Kaepernick’s workout would take place Saturday, so did the quarterback himself, giving him just a few days to prepare for possibly his only shot at performing in front of personnel evaluators from multiple teams.
Apparently, NFL franchises were similarly caught off-guard. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that some team executives “have reached out as a courtesy” to Kaepernick’s representatives to say “they couldn’t attend Saturday’s workout and were confused by the purpose of the NFL scheduling this workout.”
In addition, The Ringer reported, Kaepernick was given just two hours on Tuesday to decide whether he wanted to accept the offer, and when the quarterback’s camp asked whether the workout could be moved to the following Tuesday or Saturday, the league maintained it had to be this Saturday. Adhering to that strict timetable “didn’t seem tethered to anything,” a source described as having knowledge of the situation told The Ringer.
Making his preparation trickier, according to Yahoo Sports, was that as of Wednesday night the NFL had not provided Kaepernick a “defined throwing script” or any indication of who would be on the other end of his passes. The website joined others in reporting that whereas the league had given Kaepernick’s camp an expectation of receiving a list of attendees, it then declined to do so.
CBS Sports reported, per a source, that while Kaepernick’s agents requested such a list, the league “never promised” to provide one.
One thing seems certain: Because the tryout is on a Saturday during the season, most of the NFL’s personnel chiefs — head coaches, general managers and other front-office executives — won’t have a chance to attend, as they’ll be with their teams on the eve of game day.
NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reported Wednesday that having the workout on a Saturday allowed for the attendance of “area scouts,” and he claimed that teams were too busy on Tuesdays bringing in other free agents to their respective facilities. In addition, Kaepernick’s workout and an interview in which he’ll participate will be recorded on video and “made available to teams immediately,” said Wyche.
Still, the league’s arrangements had Reid expressing skepticism.
“It’s disingenuous,” he said. “They want the appearance of giving Colin a chance, but they give him two hours’ notice and tell him it has to be on a Saturday when they know decision-makers are traveling.
“So is this real? We’ll see.”
In a tweet Tuesday, Kaepernick himself hinted at some concerns about how high up attendees would be on their organizational depth charts.
“I’ve been in shape and ready for this for 3 years,” he said, “can’t wait to see the head coaches and GMs on Saturday.”
The NFL scarcely waited to let everyone know it was giving Kaepernick a tryout, to judge from an account Wednesday by Yahoo Sports, which reported that “a representative from the league called a select group of reporters last week and suggested they should be available on the following Tuesday for a worthwhile news development.”
That suggests that even if the audition wasn’t arranged for purely public-relations purposes, the league was certainly not going to pass on an opportunity to milk it for some favorable coverage. On another ESPN program Wednesday, former NFL player Ryan Clark said the whole thing “seems like a setup” to him.
Describing it as a ploy for league officials to “distance themselves from the ‘blackballed’ talk,” Clark said “there are ways to go about doing this without making it so public.” Fellow analyst and former NFL player Desmond Howard echoed Reid’s comments by calling the workout “disingenuous” and a “PR stunt.”
Wyche addressed that narrative on NFL Network, saying a league official asked rhetorically how a supposed desire for good public relations would explain why the NFL “would interject something that has been kind of a mute issue” into a season that has produced so many positive on-field story lines, including the stellar play of quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson.
As for the timing of the tryout, which a league executive told Wyche was “not ideal” as it was coming “so late in the season,” he noted that not only had teams been inquiring with the league about Kaepernick, but representatives for the quarterback made waves last month by releasing a lengthy statement rebutting various “false narratives” that have dogged their client.
“I have reached out to all 32 teams about Colin’s employment, with little to no response from teams about an opportunity for Colin,” Jeff Nalley, an agent for Kaepernick, wrote in a statement. Nalley added that “not a single team” had offered the quarterback a job since 2016, nor had any team “brought Colin in for a workout.”
The NFL referred to that statement Tuesday in saying in a memo to all 32 teams, “Earlier this year, we discussed some possible steps with his representatives and they recently emphasized his level of preparation and that he is ready to work out for clubs and be interviewed by them.”
“We have therefore arranged this opportunity for him to work out,” the league continued, “and for all clubs to have the opportunity to evaluate his current readiness and level of interest in resuming his NFL career.”