No one knows if Colin Kaepernick will ever play another down of professional football, but the possibility seems to grow with each passing day now. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback hasn’t taken the field since 2016, and his impromptu NFL-endorsed workout in 2019 didn’t unfold as planned. Suddenly, however, there’s arguably never been more momentum for Kaepernick’s potential return to the league.
Like countless others in the wake of George Floyd’s Minneapolis killing and a renewed national fervor for racial justice, the NFL has reversed course from Kaepernick’s days as a player, openly encouraging the kind of peaceful protests he famously started in 2016 and committing big money to some of the causes he championed.
Former NFL coaches are now claiming they wanted to sign the veteran years ago. Current ones are taking calls about him. Hall of Famers are identifying potential landing spots. Super agent Drew Rosenhaus thinks it’s only a matter of time before a team signs Kaepernick for 2020. And Kaepernick himself is apparently “more motivated than ever” to resume his playing career. What may be the biggest domino to fall in that regard came when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that he encourages teams to sign Kaepernick and would welcome him back to the league.
“Well, listen, if he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it’s gonna take a team to make that decision,” Goodell told ESPN. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision, and encourage them to do that.”
Hurdles assuredly remain, but now that the NFL is publicly riding the tide of social change, here’s a rundown of teams that could make sense as potential Kaepernick landing spots:
There aren’t any teams with as many overt connections to Kaepernick as the Ravens. First and foremost: Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator who helped unleash Kap with the 49ers back in 2012 and is now working wonders with Lamar Jackson in the Ravens’ run-first attack. Roman said in 2019 that Kaepernick’s “body of work speaks for itself,” and it’s easy to see how he could integrate a dual-threat like Kap, either as a decoy, Jackson insurance or situational option QB. That’s essentially already what the Ravens train Robert Griffin III and Trace McSorley to do anyway; Kaepernick just happens to be bigger and better.
The Ravens passed on Kap before, for a variety of speculated reasons, but they were still reportedly close to signing him while John Harbaugh was coach. (Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, of course, coached the Niners when San Francisco drafted and ultimately named Kap their starter.) Plus, a lot has happened since then, with most of the general NFL public rallying behind Kaepernick’s original messaging. The Ravens are already built to contend for a Super Bowl, and they already have their unquestioned face of the franchise at QB. They’re much better positioned now to absorb any “distractions” Kap might bring as a proven No. 2.
Like the Ravens, the Texans already have their young, dual-threat franchise QB, but that’s partially what makes them a logical fit. AJ McCarron is a traditional Bill O’Brien pocket passer at the No. 2 spot, but Houston’s still got plenty of cap space to toy with, and if anyone’s proven to be open to off-the-wall roster moves, it’s O’Brien.
More than that, just about every prominent leader on this team, from O’Brien to Deshaun Watson to J.J. Watt, has been explicit in their advocacy for social justice — with O’Brien himself set to follow in Kap’s footsteps and kneel during the national anthem this season. O’Brien’s reportedly already gotten pitches from Justin Reid about signing his brother, Eric, another of the original player protesters. Why couldn’t Kaepernick be next, especially considering his upside as a situational runner and/or Watson backup?
This feels like a long shot just because of how much the Jaguars seem intent on cutting away or avoiding distraction (see: Jalen Ramsey, etc.) and making 2020 about Gardner Minshew’s QB audition, but team owner Shad Khan is fresh off a strongly worded call to arms in the fight against injustice — the kind of action-not-words declaration that could be used to welcome Kap, his civil rights activism and so forth. Plus, there wouldn’t be much downside, from an on-field and entertainment perspective, to letting Kaepernick challenge Minshew — or at least wait in the wings for a starting opportunity.
Who better to shepherd Kaepernick on his transition back to the NFL than Andy Reid, who’s never shied away from polarizing QB moves and happens to have a Super Bowl-winning supporting cast? With a Lombardi Trophy under his belt and the NFL’s best young QB in tow in Patrick Mahomes, Reid can afford to dabble at the backup spot, where Kap would offer more play-making upside than Chad Henne. Speaking of Mahomes, No. 15 has been very outspoken about the NFL being more proactive to advance social justice causes, so it’s unlikely he’d put up any opposition to such a move. Imagine Kaepernick in Reid’s Chiefs offense, even as a gadget player for a single season before re-hitting the market; the potential is hard to miss.
The Chargers truly seem set on letting Tyrod Taylor be the placeholder at QB until first-round pick Justin Herbert is ready to go, but they also explored Tom Brady, so it’s not as if they’re blindly unaware of their potential as 2020 contenders. Adding Kaepernick wouldn’t preclude them from rolling with Taylor and/or Herbert, but rather insert an alternative for 2020 and give Herbert more time to sit and learn after a shortened offseason. Coach Anthony Lynn would almost certainly be on board with it from an off-field perspective, having passionately praised Kaepernick’s work this offseason.
Like the Jags, they’re probably unlikely suitors just because of how Mike Zimmer tends to keep a tight ship, but ownership and the front office are also pretty serious about recommitting to the social justice fight, pledging $5 million to various causes and giving a voice to player leaders like Eric Kendricks, who’ve supported protests. From a football standpoint, they’re an incredibly logical fit as a run-based, play-action-heavy offense without a rock-solid backup for Kirk Cousins. Throw in the connection to the recent Minneapolis tragedy, and there’s a reason former NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart suggested the Vikings make this happen.
If the Eagles were concerned about the optics of adding a high-profile backup for Carson Wentz after Nick Foles‘ tenure, they wouldn’t have drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round. And while Hurts’ early pick would seem to take them out of the mix, they incessantly justified that selection by calling themselves a “quarterback factory” and emphasizing the importance of the No. 2 spot. Team owner Jeffrey Lurie is a known progressive on the social justice front, his Eagles have been a bastion for that kind of work since Malcolm Jenkins helped further the foundation, and they’ve taken polarizing swings before (see: Michael Vick). Adding Kap, even as a one-year rental, would give Doug Pederson a new toy, Hurts more time to grow and Wentz a more experienced reserve.
Team leadership, including ownership and QB Ryan Tannehill, have been talking up renewed action in the social justice movement, and more than that, Mike Vrabel might prefer having someone other than Logan Woodside as his backup plan under center. The Titans saw the value of a veteran No. 2 in 2019, and Kaepernick seems like the ideal play-action backup for their offense, which is going to run through Derrick Henry anyway. Cap space certainly wouldn’t be the holdup, either.