It is obvious that Colin Kaepernick should be playing in the NFL. Just consider this statistic:
Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL lists the league and all 32 teams as respondents. To win his case, though, the out-of-work quarterback needs to show only that two or more NFL teams conspired to keep him unemployed, or that a single team conspired with the league itself to do so. Given that, Kaepernick’s legal team will likely narrow its focus to a handful of teams and owners—the ones it might want to target for deposition and document requests. (The case will be decided by a neutral arbitrator, who will decide what evidentiary maneuvers to allow.)
Who will Kaepernick and his attorneys be looking at most closely? There are at least seven teams it makes sense for them to focus on. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore is one of the few teams that publicly flirted with signing Kaepernick during the offseason. While the Ravens pondered bringing him on, owner Steve Bisciotti told fans he didn’t like the way Kaepernick had protested but that he supported the quarterback’s right to do so. He described the team’s calculus like this: “I know that we’re going to upset some people [if we sign Kaepernick], and I know that we’re going to make people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did. Nonviolent protesting is something that we have all embraced.” He then asked fans to “pray” for the team.
The team ultimately opted to keep Ryan Mallett as a backup. Ray Lewis, who in 2000 pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice owing to his role in a murder case, attributed the decision in part to a tweet sent by Kaepernick’s girlfriend Nessa Diab that depicted Bisciotti and Lewis as characters from Django Unchained. “We were going to close the deal to sign him,” Lewis said on Showtime’s Inside the NFL. “His girl goes out and put out this racist gesture and doesn’t know we are in the back office about to try to get this guy signed.”
On Aug. 2, the same day Diab sent that tweet, ESPN reported that “Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome support the signing of free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but they have met resistance from owner Steve Bisciotti.” The team responded that this story was not accurate.
Dallas Cowboys: Kaepernick’s grievance letter alleges that President Donald Trump acted as a kind of go-between for owners in facilitating his exile from the NFL. Perhaps no owner is closer to Trump—or more influential in the league—than Cowboys honcho Jerry Jones.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported earlier this month that 25 NFL owners met at league headquarters to discuss the protests the same day Trump spoke with Jones about the issue. “In the meeting, many owners wanted to speak, but the discussion soon was ‘hijacked,’ in the words of one owner, by Jones, a $1 million contributor to Trump’s inaugural committee fund,” Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham reported. Jones reportedly told the group that he’d spoken with Trump multiple times that day and that the president was not going to back down from his attacks on the league. Jones subsequently said publicly that Cowboys players who protest during the national anthem will be benched.
Kaepernick’s legal team will want to know what exact message Jones conveyed to his fellow owners and what influence it might have had on their thinking about whether to sign Kaepernick and other protesting players.
Miami Dolphins: In July, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was asked if Kaepernick was being blackballed for launching a protest movement. His response:
I would sure hope not. I know a lot’s been written about it, but you know owners and coaches—they’ll do anything it takes to win. If they think he can help them win, I’m sure—I would hope they would sign him.
Nevertheless, after Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill underwent knee surgery in August, the Dolphins chose to bring Jay Cutler out of retirement. And this week, after Cutler suffered a rib injury that should cause him to miss time, the Dolphins signed David Fales to back up Matt Moore. Fales has played in one game in his career, completing 2 of 5 passes for 22 yards.
In Kaepernick’s grievance letter, his legal team wrote:
NFL teams who ran offensive systems favorable to Mr. Kaepernick’s style of play instead employed retired quarterbacks or quarterbacks who had not played in a regular season game in years, and signed them to significant contracts while prohibiting Mr. Kaepernick from even trying out or interviewing for those jobs.
New England Patriots: Robert Kraft, like Jerry Jones, has a deep personal connection to Trump and is one of the league’s most powerful owners. In March, he traveled on Air Force One with Trump, who the next day bragged about how NFL teams hadn’t signed Kaepernick because they were afraid the president might tweet about the move.
The quarterback and his lawyers will surely want to depose Kraft to ask him what he and Trump discussed, and to whom in the league—if anyone—Kraft might have conveyed that information.
San Francisco 49ers: Kaepernick hasn’t played for any other team, and he led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2013. After starting 11 games for the team in 2016, he opted out of his contract and became a free agent when it became clear the 49ers were planning to cut him. San Francisco is 0–7 this season and changed starters from Brian Hoyer to rookie C.J. Beathard. Here’s what 49ers owner Jed York recently said about Kaepernick:
Obviously, there’s the lawsuit that’s going on, so it’s hard for me to get into any details or really share my opinion, but I don’t believe that there’s base to that claim that he’s being blackballed.
Seattle Seahawks: In May, the Seahawks met with Kaepernick to discuss bringing him in as backup to Russell Wilson. Seattle didn’t end up sealing the deal with the former 49er, with coach Pete Carroll saying, “He’s a starter in this league … and we have a starter. … I can’t imagine somebody won’t give him a chance to play.”
Carroll also said this of Kaepernick:
He’s capable of being a championship guy. He’s demonstrated that over years. He’s been up and down in his career, but he’s shown enough ups that you know that he could do that. He presented himself really well.
The Seahawks currently employ quarterback Trevone Boykin on their practice squad. In 2016, Boykin pleaded guilty to resisting arrest after allegedly hitting a police officer. This March, he was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession and public intoxication when a car in which he was a passenger hit a group of pedestrians, injuring eight people. He is scheduled to appear in court on that charge in November.
Tennessee Titans: On Oct. 3, the Titans signed Brandon Weeden.