A day that began with the hopes of an NFL-sanctioned workout for Colin Kaepernick at the Atlanta Falcons’ practice facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. ended with a roughly 45-minute throwing session an Atlanta-area high school live-streamed on YouTube.
Kaepernick spoke publicly for the first time since his days as a member of the San Francisco 49er; his brief statement challenged the commissioner of the league and its 31 owners to “stop running from the truth.”
After initially promising that most NFL teams would be in attendance, it is unclear exactly how many made it to the second location.
So, how did we get here and what happens next? Allow us to walk you through the particulars….
A POINT OF CONTENTION
Here in America we let our lawyers do the talking and talk they did on Saturday (for once, sportswriters weren’t the only ones tapping away on deadline). With a small and preferably anonymous contingent of anti-Kaepernick protestors on hand across the street from a larger contingent of pro-Kaepernick supporters, the stage was set for a closed-door workout (no media access) to be run by former Browns head coach Hue Jackson.
In a statement released from the league’s official PR Twitter account, the NFL said that Kaepernick informed them at 2:30 p.m. that he would not be attending the workout. Their perspective, (as transcribed by the league’s official site):
Today's session was designed to give Colin what he has consistently said he wants—an opportunity to show his football readiness and desire to return to the NFL. Twenty-five (25) clubs were present for the workout, and all 32 clubs, their head coaches, general managers, and other personnel executives would have received video footage of the interview and workout, shot by the Atlanta Falcons video crew. It is important to note the following:
• As stated above, more than three-fourths of NFL clubs were present for today's workout.
• The NFL made considerable effort to work cooperatively with Colin's representatives. We invited his agent to suggest questions for the interview. Yesterday, when Colin's representatives said he wanted to bring his own receivers to the workout, we agreed to the request. In addition, Coach Hue Jackson discussed with Colin's agent what drills would be run at the workout so that Colin would know what would be expected of him.
• Last night, when Nike, with Colin's approval, requested to shoot an ad featuring Colin and mentioning all the NFL teams present at the workout, we agreed to the request.
• On Wednesday, we sent Colin's representatives a standard liability waiver based on the waiver used by National Invitational Camp at all NFL Combines and by NFL clubs when trying out free agent players. At noon today, Colin's representatives sent a completely rewritten and insufficient waiver.
• We heard for the first time last night, around the same time we heard from Nike, that Colin wanted to bring his own video crew. We heard for the first time this afternoon that Colin wanted to open the event to all media.
• We agreed to have Colin's representatives on the field while the workout was being conducted and to allow them to see how it was being recorded. We did so even though we have been clear from the beginning that this is private workout. As is typical with NFL Combines, one video crew was prepared to shoot and distribute video of the interview and workout. We confirmed with Colin's representatives that they would receive both the video that would be sent to all 32 clubs as well as the raw footage from the entire event, which is unprecedented.
The location Colin selected is more than an hour away from Flowery Branch.
We are grateful to the Falcons, who made available the club's first-class facility, along with athletic training, equipment, and communications staff to ensure that today's workout would occur under ideal conditions, to coaches Hue Jackson and Joe Philbin, who were prepared to run a workout that would allow Colin to demonstrate his skill level, and to Jeff Foster and the Combine staff for arranging for other players to participate and for managing the logistics of the workout.
Colin's decision has no effect on his status in the League. He remains an unrestricted free agent eligible to sign with any club.
Kaepernick’s team released their own statement detailing their version of events, which also opened the door for on-scene reporters to get the location of the new workout, which was their attempt to ensure transparency in the process. Previously, the Falcons’ video crew was going to be the only group on hand to tape the workout. Team Kaepernick’s statement read…
• Because of recent decisions made by the NFL, the workout for Colin Kaepernick will be changing to an alternate location in Atlanta, which will now start at 4 p.m. All representatives from clubs are invited to attend and will be provided the location. Further, all media will be invited to attend and upon request will be provided the location. From the outset, Mr. Kaepernick requested a legitimate process and from the outset the NFL league office has not provided one. Most recently, the NFL has demanded that as a precondition to the workout, Mr. Kaepernick sign an unusual liability waiver that addresses employment-related issues and rejected the standard liability waiver from physical injury proposed by Mr. Kaepernick’s representatives. Additionally, Mr. Kaepernick requested all media be allowed into the workout to observe and film it and for an independent film crew to be there to ensure transparency. The NFL denied this request. Based on the prior conduct by the NFL league office, Mr. Kaepernick simply asks for a transpired and open process which is why a new location has been selected for today. Mr. Kaepernick looks forward to seeing the representatives from the clubs today.
Nike, through several reporters, also denied being on hand to shoot a commercial. If you read the NFL’s statement, they mentioned the apparel company (and Kaepernick sponsor), noting that Nike had requested to run an ad mentioning which teams were going to be at the workout. As Kevin Draper of The New York Times (linked above) smartly notes, the NFL’s statement doesn’t ever say that Kaepernick’s team wanted to turn the workout into a commercial, though that is the way many in the NFL media interpreted it. They wanted to use the names of teams that were there.
SO, ABOUT THAT LIABILITY WAIVER
Our Michael McCann has a great breakdown of the perspective from a legal standpoint and includes a point about the language in the NFL’s statement—it’s a little nebulous and allows for some fairly radical departures from a standard injury waiver, which is why Kaepernick’s team might have been upset. Also, McCann notes that the league sent this to Kaepernick’s team on Wednesday night and received “no pushback”—though that isn’t the same thing as saying they agreed to it. From McCann’s piece:
• “An injury liability waiver is not a straightforward document—it is detailed and complex. A waiver is a document that can take time to review, especially since (as mentioned above) it may have differed in important ways from standard forms. It’s thus not really surprising that Kaepernick’s representatives sent back a proposed new version to the NFL. If the two sides gave themselves more time, they might have worked out differences.”
ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio received a copy of the waiver on Saturday and noted that “there’s enough language in the waiver to give a prudent, careful lawyer legitimate concern that an aggressive litigator would later argue that signing the document defeats all potential employment claims that Kaepernick could have made.” In a nutshell, Kaepernick’s legal team may have been concerned that by having Kaepernick sign the document, he would be pinning himself in court with any future legal action against a league he believes has consistently colluded against him.
WHICH TEAMS CAME TO THE SECOND WORKOUT?
After initially promising that most NFL teams would be in attendance, it is unclear exactly how many made it to the second location. The ones we know of, via Jim Trotter of NFL Network: Chiefs, Jets, Eagles, Washington, 49ers. ESPN’s Adam Schefter added the Titans and Lions to the list.
HOW DID KAEPERNICK ACTUALLY LOOK THROWING THE BALL?
You can see for yourself here, which is part of Kaepernick’s reasoning for moving the workout in the first place. If you’ve made it this far down into the post and are steadfast in your beliefs that Kaepernick is an anti-American malcontent, congratulations. We’re not trying to change anyone’s mind, but from Kaepernick’s perspective, a closed-door workout without an open, transparent throwing process could give the league an advantage here. There would, theoretically, be no video evidence to combat an overwhelmingly negative evaluation.
• Our Albert Breer spoke with a handful of evaluators on the scene who, essentially, surmised that Kaepernick was able to show that he is still the player he was before exiting the league.
• NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport spoke with four evaluators on the scene. Consensus: Good velocity, inconsistent accuracy. He can still move well.
• NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah watched video of the workout and essentially fell into line with the scouts who spoke with Breer and Rapoport. A name that occasionally gets bandied about during the GM hiring process, Jeremiah is a former NFL scout with the Eagles and Ravens.
It’s important to note that a lot of this didn’t have a chance to be scripted. Kaepernick ended up bringing his own receivers, partially because he was in the dark about who would be at the league-sanctioned workout. Kaepernick’s agent, Jeff Nalley, told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche that he wasn’t optimistic that Kaepernick would get a call, basically because he hasn’t gotten many calls over the past three years.
SO, WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
There are a few important takeaways here, but first, a round of applause for our Michael Rosenberg for nailing a difficult situation on the head: Kaepernick is another flashpoint in a completely polarized America. If you watched the YouTube stream hoping Kaepernick would succeed, he looked great. If you watched it hoping to find a quarterback that you’re convinced is not in the NFL exclusively due to his football skills, you found that too.
Our ability to plant ourselves firmly in one reality or another has never been greater. Like the many political charades playing out at the highest levels of American government, there are enough supplies for either side to set up permanent camps in their respective echo chambers.
My thought? What Kaepernick did took guts, though I’m not sure it pushes him any closer to the NFL. He had a chance to play company man, take the loss on a few issues that propelled his outspokenness against the league and try to succeed in a staged workout run by one of the worst statistical head coaches in NFL history.
Instead, he opted to move the workout and protect himself from what he sees as the machine set out to destroy him. Throwing at the high school cost him being seen by probably 10-15 more scouts or team reps than he would have at the Falcons’ workout facility. And, in the eyes of the owners who have rationalized not signing Kaepernick because it would represent some type of distraction in the locker room and for their team, they likely feel as though they have an extended term for that excuse.
It will be fascinating to see how this event is interpreted 10 years from now with the benefit of hindsight. From where I’m sitting, it’s hard to argue that Kaepernick, in his current form, wouldn’t be an upgrade over at least a handful of starters in the NFL and many backups. On Saturday, he looked physically able to handle the rigors of an NFL season and was accurate enough with a band of pulled-together receivers. But, for many of us, this wasn’t about football. The fact that it took us 2,000 words to get here, through protest pictures, explanations of potentially dubious waivers and warring legalese, should prove as much.
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