Colin Kaepernick Showcases Talent — And NFL Notices (UPDATED)

Photo from Fox News.

By Terrance Turner

April 2, 2022

Activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick is ready to play.

Kaepernick held a throwing exhibition during halftime of the University of Michigan’s Maize and Blue spring game today. Today, he threw passes to Michigan’s draft-eligible players, and NFL team personnel were allowed to watch the event (per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.)

According to NFL.com, “The free-agent quarterback threw for around 15 minutes in a workout that was conducted by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and broadcast live on Big Ten Network. Kaepernick ran the full gamut of throwing drills, from out routes to medium crossers to play-action deep balls.” Video has emerged of Kaepernick’s throwing drills during halftime:

Kaepernick was named honorary captain of the game by Michigan earlier this week. Although Kaepernick attended the University of Nevada and played ball there for four years, he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 under Jim Harbaugh, who coached the 49ers from 2011 to 2014. (Harbaugh is now the head coach for the Michigan Wolverines.)

SANTA CLARA, CA – SEPTEMBER 28: Head Coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers talks with Colin Kaepernick #7 and Blaine Gabbert #2 in the locker room following the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Levi Stadium on September 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers defeated the Eagles 26-21. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

According to Sports Illustrated, Kaepernick played under Harbaugh for the duration of his 2011-14 tenure. During that time, Harbaugh and Kaepernick led the 49ers to an 11-4-1 record and a Super Bowl. The 49ers lost the 2013 Super Bowl to the Baltimore Ravens — who were coached by Jim Harbaugh’s brother, John Harbaugh. It was the first time in NFL history that two brothers served as head coaches of Super Bowl teams.

Kaepernick hasn’t played since the 2016 season, when he began a controversial practice of kneeling during the national anthem. Beginning in August of that year, Kaepernick remained seated while other players stood during the anthem, which was performed at the start of games. (He later switched to kneeling after a conversation with former Green Beret Nate Boyer.) He said it was a form of protest against systemic racism and police brutality.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said, via NFL.com. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

He elaborated: “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that,” he stated. 

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.”

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Kaepernick’s actions ignited a national firestorm. He drew harsh criticism from conservatives, including Donald Trump and former Giants kicker Steve Weatherford. But other players, such as 49ers safety Eric Reid, joined Kaepernick. Over time, players from other teams joined Keapernick’s protest, including running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Kenny Stills, and linebacker Brandon Marshall.

Though his last NFL snap came in January 2017, Kaepernick is determined to prove that he can still play. That ambition has been threatened by conflicts between him and the league. In 2019, however, he and the NFL settled their dispute after Kaepernick filed a grievance alleging he’d been blacklisted. The next year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he would encourage a team to sign him. “If he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it’s gonna take a team to make that decision,” Goodell told ESPN’s Mike Greenberg on a special edition of “SportsCenter” in June 2020. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that.”

Last month, Kaep worked out in Houston. According to the Houston Chronicle, he accepted an invitation from trainer Rischad Whitfield to train in Houston and showed up at Strake Jesuit High School’s football stadium. Whitfield was joined by local trainers Justin Allen and Delfonte Diamond and a host of receivers who train here, including the Philadelphia Eagles’ Greg Ward and Buffalo Bills’ Marquez Stevenson. (Both Ward and Stevenson played at the University of Houston.) Kaepernick later posted footage from the workout.

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Today, he threw in front of NFL scouts, Michigan fans, and a camera crew. Film director Spike Lee, who is directing a multipart documentary about Kaepernick, was also in attendance. Kaep impressed observers with his throws and accuracy. According to CBS Sports writer Jordan Dajani, “The throwing session began with short routes to the flats. Kaepernick even dodged a boom mic from his own camera crew to complete a pass on one of his first reps. He also threw a couple of slants and outs that were timing routes, and looked accurate on those tosses despite him not knowing his wide receivers too well. Coach Harbaugh even helped out during the event, directing routes.

As they climbed their way up the route tree, Kaepernick ran a bootleg left and completed a 20-yard comeback route. He also worked some shotgun. As the workout wore on, Kap capped the event with some deep shots on flag routes and straight go routes. His accuracy waned toward the end, but he fit in a full game’s worth of throws in the span of about 10 minutes.”

After the workout, Kaepernick was interviewed by media outlets. He noted that he hadn’t played in the cold in a while (it was around 40 degrees in Ann Arbor, Michigan, per CBS Sports). But he felt the expereince was positive. “It was great to be able to get out here, work with the receivers,” he said. “Overall, felt great. Excited to be out here.” Asked what he hopes to accomplish with today’s exhibition, he answered: “A shot. A chance. An opportunity.”

Asked how he was feeling and if he could still play, Kaepernick answered unequivocally. “Absolutely,” the former 49ers QB said. “We can still get out there and sling it. Really getting out here today for the exhibition was to be able to show that I could do that. ‘Cause one of the questions that my agent kept getting was ‘Well, it’s been five years. Can he still play?’ So we wanted to make sure that we come out, we show everyone I could still play, still throw it and really just looking for an opportunity for a door to open, to have that be a pathway to be able to get back in there, get a starting job and lead a team to a championship.”

Asked about his relationship with John Harbaugh, Kaep spoke warmly of him. “From the time we met at the combine, my pro day, to him drafting me and choosing to start me,” he said, “our relationship’s continued to grow and develop. Phenomenal person. Phenomenal man. Lot of love for Coach Harbaugh.” What did it mean? “It shows who Coach Harbaugh is, you know? He does this for me. You know, he’s someone that — he’s gonna fight for you. And his relationship with you goes beyond just football. He loves you as a person.”

Kaepernick thanked Harbaugh prior to the game in a tweet expressing his excitement:

“I can help make you a better team, I can help you win games,” Kaepernick told Jeanna Trotman on WXYZ Detroit when asked what his message was to NFL scouts or prospective teams. “I know right now the situation likely won’t allow me to come in, step into a starting role. I know I’ll be able to work my way to that though and show that very quickly.

“So to the teams that have questions, more than anything I would say I’d love to come in for a workout. I’d love to sit down with you and have that conversation about how I could help you be a better team.”

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UPDATE (April 28, 2022): Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis says that he would welcome Kaepernick to his team, given the chance. In an interview with NBC Sports host Monte Poole, Davis said: “I believe in Colin Kaepernick and he deserves every chance in the world to become a quarterback in the National Football League. I still stand by it; if our coaches and our general managers want to bring him in or want him to be the quarterback on this team, I would welcome it with open arms.”

“I think Colin’s a very misunderstood human being,” Davis added. “I didn’t really know Colin; I didn’t understand him, and I didn’t understand what the kneeling — what that meant — initially; over time, I’ve learned a little bit more about it, and I understand where he was coming from.”

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