Exiled QB Emerges as Free Agent Option For Cleveland Browns

Colin Kaepernick

Getty Colin Kaepernick looks to pass during his NFL workout held at Charles R Drew high school on November 16, 2019 in Riverdale, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns have questions at quarterback and a former San Francisco 49ers signal caller has emerged as a possible answer.

Colin Kaepernick has not played an NFL game since 2016 but is looking for an opportunity under center after five years on the sidelines. The 34-year-old QB, who fell just three points shy of a Super Bowl ring in 2012-13, posted a Twitter video of himself training on Thursday, March 10.

“Still working,” the caption said.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter retweeted the reel later in the day, adding a bit of reporting that indicated Kaepernick is hunting a roster spot on a Super Bowl contender.

“Colin Kaepernick is still working out and is said to be, in the words of one source, ‘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,'” Schefter wrote.

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Kaepernick Intriguing QB Prospect For Cleveland Browns

Getty ImagesQuarterback Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns.

There have been no reports of the Browns, or any other franchise, reaching out to Kaepernick with interest in the hours since the QB posted the video Thursday morning. However, Cleveland does appear a reasonable pairing for Kaepernick if it turns out he can still play.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract with no extension yet in place. Trade speculation involving Mayfield swirled around the team for weeks, even prior to the end of the regular season. But with Aaron Rodgers re-committed to the Green Bay Packers, former Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson now a member of the Denver Broncos and Carson Wentz on his way from Indianapolis to Washington D.C. via a trade, the Browns look more and more likely to roll with Mayfield in 2022.

There is not necessarily an urgency in Cleveland to move on from Mayfield or commit to him long-term this offseason. He is scheduled to make more than $18 million in 2022, which is a significant amount but not crippling for a team with a solid grip on its salary cap sheet. The Browns can also use the franchise tag to keep Mayfield around for 2023, though the price on that hypothetical one-year deal would be onerous, to say the least.

The real urgency resides in Cleveland’s desire not to waste another season with what might otherwise be a Super Bowl-caliber roster. As such, the Browns are expected to push Mayfield, either by drafting his potential replacement or by bringing in a free agent to compete for his job. Mitchell Trubisky of the Buffalo Bills, for instance, is a name that has been floated to accomplish the latter.

While Kaepernick would likely bring headlines and scrutiny to the organization were the Browns to sign him, the heat surrounding such a deal may not prove as sweltering as it once would have. The financial cost of signing a player five years out of the league would also be well worth the flyer if the Browns evaluated Kaepernick and decided he could still play.

Timing of Kaepernick’s Video Release Not Likely Coincidence


GettyEric Reid #35 (left) and Colin Kaepernick #7 (right) of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.

Kaepernick posted the video of his training workout just six days prior to the official start of free agency, which is set for Wednesday, March 16. It represents the third time the famous quarterback and social figure has tried to work his way back onto an NFL field since he was essentially exiled from the league following the conclusion of the 2016 season.

The long-held and widespread speculation is that Kaepernick hasn’t taken another snap since that time due to his polarizing decision to protest police brutality in the United States by kneeling during the national anthem, which is played prior to the kickoff of every NFL game.

Kaepernick played just six seasons in the league, with his final campaign coming at the age of 29. While he was plagued by health concerns during the 2015 season — dealing with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder, torn ligaments in his right thumb and knee issues — none of those injuries were considered career-threatening. The quarterback rebounded and appeared in 12 games, starting 11 of those contests, the following year, which turned out to be his final in the NFL.

Kaepernick garnered what appeared to be strong interest from the Baltimore Ravens during the 2017 offseason. That relationship reportedly ended when New York City radio host and Kaepernick’s girlfriend Nessa Diab tweeted a photo of Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti and then-Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, in which she compared the two to characters from the 2012 Quentin Tarantino film, “Django Unchained.”

Lewis, who is Black, described the post as “racist” during a September interview with the Baltimore Sun, in which he claimed Diab’s tweet was the reason the Ravens ultimately decided against signing Kapernick that offseason.

Two years later, Kaepernick and the NFL reached a tenuous agreement that the Atlanta Falcons would host a league-wide showcase for the quarterback in November of 2019. The deal collapsed in the hours before the workout, as the legal representation for the two sides disagreed over the finer points of a liability waiver required for the event to proceed. Kaepernick ultimately hosted his own workout approximately 60 miles from the facility at Charles Drew High School. He was not signed following the showcase.

In the time since Kaepernick’s public protests, the NFL has at least ostensibly become more active in the area of social justice. The league has made efforts in this regard via its Inspire Change Initiative, which was first rolled out in 2018.

Furthermore, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams (the Dolphins, Broncos and New York Giants) in early February alleging racist hiring and firing practices. Despite Flores’ own concerns that his actions might mean the end of his NFL career, which he voiced publicly in the days following his filing of the suit, the Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin hired Flores as a senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach later that month.

While Kaepernick made no mention in his Twitter post of the league’s social justice initiative or the Steelers’ hiring of Flores, the quarterback may believe those events are indicators that the sentiment against his prior political statements has softened enough across the NFL to allow him another chance to join a roster.

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