Colin Kaepernick still wants to play. Does he really stand a chance?

The time since Colin Kaepernick last played in the NFL has encompassed an American presidency, the entire career of Patrick Mahomes and even the retirement and non-retirement of Tom Brady.

But in recent days, the activist quarterback has launched a reinvigorated, albeit unlikely, campaign: More than five years after his last game, he’s still training and fishing for another shot in the sport that got him. avoid.

After posting a video to social media of a pitching session, Kaepernick has spent the past week barnstorming across the country practicing with NFL players. He pitched with Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett in Arizona on March 14 before conducting practices in Houston on March 15, Dallas the next day and Atlanta on March 18.

The people who participated in the trainings praise his physical form and his abilities. NFL teams are frantically looking for quarterbacks. The question: Will any team try the 34-year-old quarterback?

This is a question that binds the leaders of the NFL. “Does this guy deserve a second chance? I think he does, somewhere,” said Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose team just traded Russell Wilson and needs a quarterback. “I don’t know if it’s here. I do not know where it is. I don’t know if it’s even in football.

People who have seen Kaepernick practice over the past week have a more optimistic view.

“He could play for any of those 32 teams. He looked great,” says Rischad Whitfield, a coach who oversaw one of his sessions last week that included several current NFL receivers. ? You would think he was just done playing football during the NFL regular season.

A comeback is reasonably a longshot. During Kaepernick’s final season with the San Francisco 49ers, in 2016, he launched protests during the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustices such as police brutality. The ramifications of this move have played out for years, for both the NFL and the quarterback.

Kaepernick has not since signed and filed a since-settled grievance, against the league and all 32 teams, which alleged he was effectively blackballed because of his outspoken political views. Meanwhile, as some players continued to protest throughout the sport, then-President Donald Trump repeatedly attacked the protests as unpatriotic while attacking the NFL for allowing them to continue.

The beards have drawn the nation’s most popular sport into a direct feud with the sitting president while dividing fans over the politically polarizing issue. At times, players knelt en masse in direct rebuke of Trump’s comment and the league instituted — and quickly aborted — a policy change that would require players to stand or stay in locker rooms for the anthem.

Yet the NFL in 2022 exists in a different landscape than years past. Trump is no longer president. And the league has also veered left on social issues. In a stunning video from 2020, as protests against police brutality swept the country following the murder of George Floyd, commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was wrong for not listening to players earlier on these topics and encouraged peaceful protests. “End Racism” has been emblazoned on the back end zones of NFL stadiums for the past two years.

Also of note: Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who recently sued the NFL and three teams over allegations of racial discrimination in the league’s hiring practices, nevertheless got a job as an assistant at the Pittsburgh Steelers after filing his lawsuit.

In this context, Kaepernick announced his renewed willingness to sign. He wrote on Twitter that he had been working for five years in case an opportunity presented itself. But he added that he had missed pitching to “professional runners”.

“Let’s do it, brother!” Lockett tweeted 10 minutes later. “Me and my brother will come running for you.”

That led to a practice session in Scottsdale, Arizona, with Lockett and his Kansas State wide receiver brother Sterling. The following day, he posted a seven-minute video on YouTube of the session, which included a bullet that traveled 55 meters in the air and hit its target in stride. (Her live stream of the session also caught the attention of big names, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who commented, “Let’s hear it for @kaepernick7, we need that arm in New York. “)

Lockett, afterward, endorsed Kaepernick’s abilities. “This Kap man is ready!!” he tweeted.

On March 15, he landed in Houston, where he led another practice overseen by Whitfield, who is nicknamed the “Footwork King” and coaches stars such as Odell Beckham Jr. Whitfield says a number of current receivers of the NFL participated, including Greg of the Philadelphia Eagles. Ward and Marquez Stevenson of the Buffalo Bills.

Whitfield says Kaepernick threw up to 80 balls in a 90-minute session that covered just about everything: short, medium and long passes; run pass options; drops in three, five and seven stages; and different combinations of routes against different coverage patterns. Whitfield had studied Kaepernick’s time tape with the 49ers, the team he once coached to a Super Bowl berth, and came away impressed with the quarterback’s likeness to the era. The only difference he noted was that Kaepernick seemed to have added muscle mass.

“He showed a big arm. He showed precision,” says Whitfield. “The mental part of where he is, as far as quarterbacking, is amazing.”

On March 16, Kaepernick was in his third city in as many days. In Dallas, footage on Instagram showed him working out with another coach who coaches NFL receivers. On March 18, he was in Atlanta working with another coach alongside quarterbacks including Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears.

David Robinson, the coach who oversaw practice at Dallas, said he spoke with receivers, including those from NFL teams, after practice. They generally agreed he was better than some of the players they saw on the quarterback depth chart for their clubs.

“He can easily come in and be a No. 2 quarterback in the NFL right now and eventually be a starter once he gets the pace of the playbook,” Robinson said.

Colin Kaepernick last played in the NFL in 2016.


Photo:

Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Also working in favor of Kaepernick: The apparent desperation of NFL teams for quarterbacks. The Washington Commanders traded a series of draft picks for Carson Wentz, who has struggled in recent years to accept his expensive contract. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Mitchell Trubisky and gave him a raise after spending all of last season as a backup. And there are still teams, like Seattle, without clear quarterback answers.

This tour was a far cry from Kaepernick’s last high-level training session, which burned dramatically. Amid criticism that no NFL team had even offered him a workout since he and the 49ers parted ways, the NFL tried to hold one at the Falcons’ Atlanta training facility. . Then he collapsed at the last second on the tongue in a waiver that Kaepernick was reluctant to sign. Instead, he held his own training session at a nearby school while Nike – who are partners of both the league and Kaepernick – were caught in the middle of the shooting.

“Colin is a free agent and can sign with any club,” an NFL spokesperson said.

In August 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he would continue to sit during the national anthem as a form of personal protest against the state of race relations in the United States. He is the latest in a long line of athletes publicly protesting racial injustice. . Photo: AP.

Write to Andrew Beaton at [email protected]

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