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Public Reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s Raiders Workout Will Determine Everything

The tryout is a trial balloon for the rest of the NFL, which may finally lead to an opportunity to make a roster.

When the Ravens briefly entertained the idea of bringing in Colin Kaepernick in 2017, the collective outrage from concerned citizens and fans—alongside folks who just enjoy dumping dry leaves onto a roaring fire—was so significant that the team ended up releasing statements from both its general manager and team president. The Ravens admitted fan sentiment was a factor in their decision making, and looked so wholly run-over and exhausted by the process that any other team considering the former 49ers quarterback was scared into the hills.

Never, in NFL history, had thinking about adding a backup quarterback caused a facility to nearly topple. And so, as the Raiders complete a workout with Kaepernick in Nevada on Wednesday, it stands to reason that the most interesting part of all this is not necessarily what the Raiders decide, but what everyone else does next.

Even if owner Mark Davis doesn’t want Kaepernick on the roster, allowing a legitimate workout to take place serves as a trial balloon for the rest of the NFL. If the Raiders are snowed under by letter-writing campaigns, picketed by Kaepernick haters and bullied by politicians with social media access, we’ll likely see the rest of the NFL scatter just like all 32 teams did a few years ago. It is the result of some strange optical calculus, where owners are willing to give second chances to all sorts of talented players who’ve compiled heinous moments in their past, criminal or otherwise, but change their tune the second an issue veers into the hyperpolarized politics of our time.

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If enough people collectively shrug their shoulders, realizing that we may have come far enough as a society to understand Kaepernick’s intentions (or just that we’re all out of signs to make and on to the next topic to debate), we might actually get the chance to see what we’ve been missing all this time. Or, if we were missing much at all.

Turning to his on-field ability: Kaepernick is, at the very least, better than most backups in the NFL and, I think it’s safe to venture, a small handful of fringe starters currently holding down jobs. This is at least a debatable notion. It’s a theory that most NFL teams would have tested out by now had it not been nearly impossible (from their point of view) to have Kaepernick in for a legitimate tryout.

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Now that the protective seal has been cracked—not just on his throwing display at Michigan, but on a legitimate, formalized workout viewed by an active NFL head coach—we might get the chance to see who was actually interested all the while. We might have a chance of discussing the football player as a football player, who may or may not contribute value to a team. Kaepernick himself has said this is what he wants, understanding that he’ll likely have to work his way back from the bottom of a depth chart.

There is a version of this story that ends with a somewhat quiet Memorial Day Weekend, following the news that Las Vegas is considering adding Kaepernick to the roster. There is a version of this story where a handful of teams that need quarterback help far more than Las Vegas do pick up the telephone and ring Kaepernick’s agent, asking for a few hours of Colin’s time on an empty football field somewhere. There is a version of this story that ends with Kaepernick in uniform, at training camp, where we can all see him take live reps against the talent we’ve been arguing he’s better or worse than. There is a version of this story that ends in a somewhat satisfying answer one way or another (even though, one could argue, Kaepernick was robbed of five prime years of his career and that this is not the fairest representation of what we’d have seen on a football field in 2017).

There is also a version of this story we’re more familiar with. All of us, tensed, glued to our phones and keyboards, making a moment that is really about one thing into an entirely different matter.

We get to decide. For some reason, this is the only time NFL owners care what people think about a transaction. For some reason, the public’s reaction could very well dictate the near future of the NFL, and maybe in some small, miniscule, way, how some people go about trying to understand those who experience life in a different way.

What will everyone choose?

More NFL coverage:

• Behind the Spectacle of Colin Kaepernick’s Comeback Tour
• From June 2020: What Do You Think of Colin Kaepernick Now?
• The Browns Will Never Live Down the Deshaun Watson Deal
Do the Browns Believe Deshaun Watson?