Colin Kaepernick was back in the center of the NFL rumor mill on Thursday when ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared a video of the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback working out with a quote from a source saying he is “in the best shape of his life. He wants to play. He’s ready to play. He would be a great fit for teams with QB vacancies to fill who want to win a Super Bowl.”
For the few who are not already familiar, Kaepernick became the 49ers starting quarterback in the middle of the 2012 season. He led the Niners to the Super Bowl that season and NFC Championship game the next.
However, as San Francisco’s talent evaporated over the coming years — expedited by Jed York’s decision to fire head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2014 — Kaepernick was unable to keep the 49ers competitive.
Injuries hampered Kaepernick’s 2015 and 2016 seasons, even leading head coach Chip Kelly to make Blaine Gabbert the team’s Week 1 starter. Kaepernick eventually retook the Niners' starting job and posted solid numbers in his most recent NFL campaign, but the 49ers still finished with the second-worst record in the NFL.
That offseason, the 49ers fired Kelly and hired Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch as the franchise’s next brain trust. Shanahan and Lynch met with Kaepernick and explained that the team wanted to go in a different direction at quarterback. While Kaepernick opted out of his contract, the Niners were planning to release him had he opted in.
However, few remember Kaepernick’s football in 2016. During the preseason, he began kneeling during the national anthem as a way of protesting racism and police brutality in the United States.
Soon Kaepernick became a lightning rod topic in the middle of an election year. Not only did he become the subject of political fodder and debate, but troll accounts reportedly sent more than 12,000 tweets to spark even more controversy around his protest.
Since he became a free agent after the 2016 season, Kaepernick has not received an offer from an NFL team. Despite his track record as a competent and at times exceptional starter, Kaepernick has been passed over for clearly inferior quarterbacks throughout the league, including Blaine Gabbert—the very quarterback he beat out with the 49ers.
Kaepernick filed a collusion lawsuit against the league, alleging that ownership worked in tandem to prevent him from receiving an opportunity as punishment for his political stances. The NFL settled the case with Kaepernick and former 49ers safety Eric Reid before it reached litigation.
It’s now been five seasons since Kaepernick played in the NFL. At this point, if Kaepernick is able to have any semblance of NFL success, it will be somewhat historic. Of course, fans have reason to be skeptical that Kaepernick will ever have an opportunity to return to the league.
The timing and source of information come with some red flags. While Schefter is one of the most well-connected NFL insiders, he’s also often a voice box for the league to push narratives they want. In 2019, when the NFL tried to schedule a workout for Kaepernick, Schefter blamed Kaepernick and his team for not caving to the league’s parameters, even though it clearly looked like nothing more than a PR move for the NFL.
The NFL once again received significant criticism for the lack of diversity among its head coaching hires this offseason, and it became an even larger story when former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the league for discriminatory hiring practices. Kaepernick’s return to the league, or frankly, even rumors of franchise’s interest, remains an easy way for the NFL to deflect criticism surrounding anti-Blackness throughout the league.
With all that said, Kaepernick only needs one team to be willing to pull the trigger on a contract offer. The Seattle Seahawks, One of the 49ers' biggest NFC West rivals, seems like one of the more logical landing spots.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll openly said he regretted not signing Kaepernick back in 2017. At the time, Carroll said he did not want to put Kaepernick in the position of being stuck behind then Seahawks star Russell Wilson. However, as The Tacoma Tribune’s Seahawks beat writer Gregg Bell pointed out on Thursday, Seattle is now in need of a viable starting quarterback after trading Russell Wilson earlier this week.
Over his career, Kaepernick had a 28-30 win-loss record as a starter. Across 69 games (58 starts), he completed 59.8% of his passes for 12,271 yards, 72 touchdowns (4.3%), and 30 interceptions (1.8%). He also amassed 2,300 rushing yards for 13 touchdowns on just 375 carries (6.1 yards per carry).