Only the Las Vegas Raiders know if Colin Kaepernick is still good enough to play quarterback in the NFL.
Try Kaepernick out of the Raiders on Wednesday. It was his first legitimate experience in years. He hasn’t appeared in a game since the 2016 season, when he started 11 games with the San Francisco team with two wins.
It was cut in early 2017 and hasn’t received much attention since, at least in part due to his decision to kneel while the national anthem was played that season.
Is he, at 34, still capable? Raiders do not say.
“We’ll just talk about the people on our team,” said coach Josh McDaniels, echoing the old policy of the New England Patriots, where McDaniels twice served as Bill Belichick’s right-hand man. “…we really don’t make comments about the ratings we’ve had or how they looked, what they didn’t look like, their strengths and weaknesses, those kinds of things.”
It seems reasonable. Why give a rating to a player who is still free to sign elsewhere now?
That’s not to say Kaepernick didn’t answer a few questions on Wednesday, some annoying and some potentially important in his quest to play football again.
The first is that he really wants to get back into the NFL. Fair or not, there was a perception among some in the league that Kaepernick was content with his life after football, and while he often said he wanted to keep playing, his motivation wasn’t complete.
NFL teams, at least in part because of his political activism, have expressed little interest even in his prosecution.
Kaepernick’s final days in San Francisco were a far cry from his peak in 2012 and 2013, when he led the 49ers to the playoffs. He was never a big runner, his game depended on his running ability. As that started to fade, so did his play in general. In the last two seasons, he failed to complete 60 percent of his passes and required a large number of surgeries.
However, given the annual display of quarterbacks who fit in every week, and even starting due to injury late in the season, there was no doubt that his exclusion from the league was not based solely on performance.
However, Kaepernick wasn’t able to convince anyone to give him a chance and the notion that he “didn’t really want to play” came easy to the NFL teams.
This was especially evident in November. On the 12th, 2019, when the NFL set up a practice for him in front of any teams that wanted to field a representative.
Kaepernick withdrew from the session in Atlanta just 30 minutes earlier, expressing concern about her closing to the public and the waiver the NFL wanted him to sign. Then he moved her to another part of town, with his camera crew.
Even if Kaepernick’s concerns are legitimate, when you’re looking for a job, it’s the employer who holds the cards. As long as nothing illegal is asked of you, you tend to do as you please. If they want you to wear a suit, you wear a suit. Maybe if you have enough talent, it doesn’t matter. Kaepernick no longer does that.
The experience was a disaster. Kaepernick looked good throwing the ball, but no one signed him. Some in the league considered it just a not-so-serious publicity stunt from a man who seemed hard to work with. Again, who knows if that’s true, but that’s the way the NFL took it.
Well, maybe he really does want to play. Maybe he always did. Or maybe things have changed. Whatever it was, training with Raiders was typical of how the system worked. That alone should turn some heads in the NFL. Or take at least one excuse to take it off the table.
Kaepernick seems quite willing to be a backup. Sure, he would like to start. But every player should want it. His willingness to experience Las Vegas suggests that he is not waiting for a guaranteed job.
Derek Carr is a well-established starter in Vegas. The three-time Pro Bowler hasn’t missed a game since 2017 and led the Raiders to the playoffs a season ago. In April he signed a three-year extension worth $121.5 million.
Kaepernick knew all of that. He knew that with the exception of some job-hunting training camps (even if he fell), the invaders were interested in him as a backup.
I have tried anyway.
If nothing else, maybe another poor team in the middle will see it from a new perspective. Or maybe someone decides to take a second look at a guy who might still bring a bunch of talent to the roster.
Vegas might have expected it. Or he might get another experience somewhere else.
It’s all a long way from Kaepernick’s return to the NFL, but no matter what happened during the trial, Wednesday was a potentially significant day for the quarterback.