Only the Las Vegas Raiders know whether Colin Kaepernick is still good enough to play quarterback in the NFL.
Kaepernick tried out for the Raiders on Wednesday. It was his first legit tryout in years. He hasn’t appeared in a game since the 2016 season, when he started 11 games for a two-win San Francisco team.
He was cut in early 2017 and hasn’t garnered much interest since, at least some of it because of his decision to kneel during the playing of the national anthem that season.
Is he, at age 34, still capable? The Raiders aren’t saying.
“We will only talk about the people that are on our team,” said coach Josh McDaniels, echoing an old policy of the New England Patriots, where McDaniels has twice served as Bill Belichick’s right hand. “... We really don’t make comments about the evaluations that we made or what they looked like, what they didn’t look like, strengths and weaknesses, those kinds of things.”
It makes sense. Why provide an evaluation for a player who is still free to sign elsewhere right now?
That doesn’t mean Kaepernick didn’t answer some questions on Wednesday, some of them nagging and some of them perhaps significant in his quest to play football again.
The first is that he genuinely wants to return to the NFL. Fair or not, there was a perception among some in the league that Kaepernick was content with his post-football life and while he often said he wanted to still play, his motivation wasn’t complete.
NFL teams, at least in part because of his political activism, had expressed little interest in even trying him out.
Kaepernick’s final days in San Francisco were a far cry from his peak of 2012 and 2013, when he led the 49ers to the playoffs. Never a big-time passer, his game relied on his running ability. As that began to fade, so too did his overall play. His final two seasons he failed to complete 60 percent of his passes and needed a slew of surgeries.
However, considering the annual parade of middling quarterbacks to suit up each week, and even start due to injury late in the season, there was little doubt his exclusion from the league wasn't just performance-based.
Still, Kaepernick was unable to convince anyone to give him a chance and the concept that he “didn’t really want to play” became an easy out for NFL teams.
This was especially pronounced on Nov. 12, 2019, when the NFL set up a workout for him in front of any teams that wanted to send a representative.
Kaepernick pulled out of the session in Atlanta just 30 minutes prior, expressing concern about it being closed to the public and a waiver the NFL wanted him to sign. He then moved it to a different part of the city, with his own camera crew in tow.
Even if Kaepernick’s concerns were legit, when you are seeking a job it is the employer who holds the cards. As long as nothing illegal is being asked, you tend to need to do as they wish. If they want you to wear a suit, you wear a suit. Perhaps if you have enough talent, it doesn’t matter. Kaepernick no longer did.
The tryout was a disaster. Kaepernick looked fine throwing the ball, but no one signed him. It was seen by some in the league as just an unserious publicity stunt from a guy who seemed difficult to work with. Again, who knows if that’s true, but that’s how the NFL took it.
Well, maybe he actually does want to play. Maybe he always did. Or maybe things have changed. Whatever it was, the workout with the Raiders was typical of how the system works. That alone should turn some heads in the NFL. Or at least take one excuse for ignoring him off the table.
Kaepernick also appears quite willing to be a backup. Sure, he’d like to start. But every player should want that. His willingness to try out for Las Vegas suggests he isn’t waiting for a guaranteed job.
Derek Carr is the entrenched 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 up to $121.5 million.
Kaepernick knew all of that. He knew that, barring some near-miracle job-winning training camp (if he even signs), the Raiders were interested in him as a backup.
He tried out anyway.
If nothing else, maybe some other quarterback-poor team sees him in a new light. Or maybe someone decides to take a second look at a guy who might still bring a pop of talent to the roster.
Maybe Vegas signs him. Or maybe he gets another tryout somewhere else.
All of this is a long way from Kaepernick ever returning to the NFL, but no matter what happened during the tryout, Wednesday was still a potentially significant day for the quarterback.