President Trump might just have done Colin Kaepernick a huge favor.
Two years after Trump roiled the NFL by declaring that any player, like Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem was a “son of a bitch” who ought to be “fired,” Trump reversed course on Friday. Asked during an impromptu news conference whether Kaepernick ought to be given a chance to play in the NFL, Trump offered a measured, politics-free response.
“Only if he’s good enough,” Trump said. “If he’s good enough, I know the owners, I know [Patriots owner] Bob Kraft, I know so many of the owners. If he’s good enough, I know these people. They would sign him in a heartbeat. They will do anything they can to win games. Frankly, I’d love to see Kaepernick come in if he’s good enough. But I don’t want to see him come in if somebody thinks it’s a good PR move. If he’s good enough, he will be in.”
Here’s the full answer:
Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem as a means of protesting police brutality starting in the 2016 preseason. His movement gathered steam throughout that year, then exploded after he was out of the league. For much of 2017, the NFL wrestled with how to deal with unceasing, unrelenting attacks from Trump and his base.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, insisted that he was not only willing to play but staying ready. Just this week, he released a short Twitter post indicating his willingness to get back in the game:
It’s indisputable that Kaepernick was good enough to play in the NFL at the time the protests effectively ended his career. Whether he’s currently NFL-caliber after two years off the field is another question entirely, one that has nothing to do with his political stance.
Back in 2017, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers after being told he would be cut in order to give himself more time to sign with another NFL team. That never happened. Kaepernick was at the time three years removed from leading San Francisco to the cusp of a Super Bowl title.
Neither Kaepernick’s statistics nor NFL teams’ personnel choices countered the perception that Kaepernick was being effectively blackballed for his personal views. A Washington Post review of statistics following the 2017 season found that 15 starting quarterbacks performed better than Kaepernick’s last averages, seven performed about the same, and 10 performed worse. A separate statistical breakdown done by SB Nation proved that Kaepernick possessed skills at least equal to many of the quarterbacks on NFL rosters.
From a free-agent perspective, it’s tough to argue with a straight face that some of the quarterbacks who have suited up for NFL teams since Kaepernick left the Niners are better than him. The Undefeated compiled a list of 85 quarterbacks signed after Kaepernick became a free agent; the list included a player who hadn’t taken a snap since 2013 and a player who got beaten out for the third QB spot on his previous team, among many others.
Granted, it’s understandable that teams wouldn’t want the supposed “media circus” that would accompany Kaepernick, or — more specifically — the bullhorn-blast of a presidential tweet raining social-media hellfire down on them. But no team ever phrased its objection to Kaepernick that way, and instead avoided Kaepernick by questioning his athleticism or saying he didn’t fit their system ... no matter what that system happened to be.
But here’s the fascinating twist about Trump’s new stand: by saying Kaepernick could play “if he’s good enough,” he gave teams cover they need to sign Kaepernick. The NFL has largely recovered from whatever Trump-inflicted damage hit the NFL in the wake of 2017’s protest battles — ratings are back up, nobody’s burning any jerseys — but risk-averse teams surely aren’t eager to relive those days when an entire swath of the nation declared the NFL one of many Enemies of the People.
Who could sign Kaepernick? The Eagles are the obvious frontrunner after losing Nate Sudfeld to a broken wrist. The Ravens feature Kaepernick’s old offensive coordinator. The Cardinals might need a solid backup to Kyler Murray. And there will be injuries. There are always injuries.
The irony, of course, is that Kaepernick has been out of the league for so long that while questions about his ability weren’t necessarily legitimate before, they very much are now. He might just get a chance to prove himself once again after all.
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