Whether Colin Kaepernick signs with the Las Vegas Raiders or not, he is, at the very least, the second-best quarterback who will throw a pass for their new coaching staff this season.
That would matter to Al Davis, the man who transformed the one-time American Football League doormats into one of the most feared and flamboyant NFL franchises in football history. But Davis died 11 years ago, and while his legacy and aura live on in Las Vegas, his way of doing business may not.
Kaepernick was exiled from the league six years ago for taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice and has had only one dalliance with the NFL since, a momentary discussion with the Seattle Seahawks which led nowhere. That experience, plus his early career successes, make him the classic Al Davis reclamation project - a previously productive pro who has fallen out of disfavor with his franchise ... or, in this case, the entire league ... but may have a lot left in the tank.
The list of such Raider resurrections is long and celebrated. Jim Plunkett. Ted Hendricks. Rich Gannon. Todd Christensen. George Blanda. Warren Wells. Art Powell. Lincoln Kennedy. Ben Davidson. Ike Lassiter. Derrick Burgess. Nemiah Wilson. Clem Daniels. The list goes on and Kaepernick, who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC championship game in 2013 before his star began to fade, fits perfectly.
Davis didn’t limit such gambling moves to the locker room, either. He also hired the NFL’s first Black head coach in 65 years (Art Shell), its first female chief executive (Amy Trask), was the first to draft a Black quarterback in the first round (Eldridge Dickey), first to draft a pure punter in the first round (Ray Guy) and the first to hire a Hispanic head coach (Tom Flores). However, while the Raiders have a long history of such moves there is no proof yet that Davis’ son, Mark, has the same taste for second chances and outside-the-box thinking as his father.
Kaepernick is the logical choice if he does, though, because the quarterback lineup behind starter Derek Carr is thinner than Russian porridge. Carr, who signed a three-year, $121.5-million extension in May, is the clear starter, but all there is behind him is air in the persons of recently-acquired former Patriot backup Jarrett Stidham, free agent Nick Mullens and undrafted rookie Chase Garbers.
So what’s the gamble in taking a shot on Kaepernick?
New head coach Josh McDaniels claims Carr is well aware he has his new coach’s full support, a fact made clear by the size of that contract extension. But if there was any doubt, McDaniels extended a public backing of Carr after admitting he hadn’t given his quarterback a heads up that the team would be granting Kaepernick a tryout.
“He knows this is his football team, and he’s working like it on the field and he’s leading the way that we want him to lead and he’s doing all the right things,” McDaniels said after a recent OTA session. “I couldn’t ask more from Derek Carr, and I’m very pleased with what he’s doing so far.”
For his part, Kaepernick insists he understands he would be coming in to play a backup role while hoping for a chance to show he still has life in his rocket arm and elusive legs. He need only recall how Plunkett arrived in Oakland looking like a lost cause and left the Raiders eight years later with two Super Bowl rings and a Super Bowl MVP award to understand this has long been the land of opportunity for seemingly lost and certainly undervalued players.
"I know I have to find my way back in," Kaepernick recently told Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson and Adam "Pacman" Jones in an interview on the “I Am Athlete” podcast. “So, yeah, if I have to come in as a backup, that’s fine. But that's not where I'm staying. And when I prove that I'm a starter, I want to be able to step on the field as such. I just need that opportunity to walk through the door."
Whether Mark Davis’ Las Vegas Raiders are willing to open that door remains to be seen, but historically one thing is for certain: Al Davis would be holding it wide open for Colin Kaepernick while letting him know his job is to come in, do his best with the chances he gets and, when the time is right, be ready to show the football world that resurrections don’t only happen in the Holy Land.