Last Chance

If Even the Desperate Packers Pass, Kaepernick’s NFL Career Is Over

With Aaron Rodgers out, the Packers need a mobile quarterback with playoff experience to have any real shot. Sound like anybody you know?

GREEN BAY, WI - MAY 5: A Green Bay Packers' helmet lies in the end zone at the first mini camp of the season at the Don Hutson Center on May 5, 2006 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

A Super Bowl contender just saw its star quarterback suffer a calamitous injury, one that’s expected to sideline him for a couple of months, and possibly the remainder of the regular season, if not longer.

So the team reaches out to former a hotshot QB, one who’s already shown the ability to be (at worst) a legitimate starter, but who for some strange reason hasn’t been able to find a spot on any of the other 31 teams’ rosters. He keeps the team afloat while the star diligently works to get back on the field, and his career, once thought to be over, is revived, basking in the adoration from the hometown fans.

It’s the kind of nostalgia-drenched storybook narrative that the NFL usually adores. In this case, there’s not much of a chance it’ll happen, because the would-be protagonist in this football tale is Colin Kaepernick, who grew up rooting for the Green Bay Packers.

Why? The collective NFL hivemind has decided that Kaepernick cannot ever receive a second chance because he dared, in compliance with the glorious and yet Talmudic NFL rulebook, to peacefully protest police violence and the ongoing oppression of African-Americans. While other NFL players have since taken up the cause, Kaepernick has always been the face of the protests—an act of defiance that always was going to be met with crude vengeance—but for anyone still clinging to the notion that Kap hasn’t been signed based on his talent alone, that argument has as much structural integrity as Aaron Rodgers’ fractured clavicle.

After Rodgers was carted off the field on Sunday, his replacement, third-year pro and former fifth round draft pick Brett Hundley struggled, chucking three interceptions and completing 18 of 33 passes for a meager 157 yards in a 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers suffered a similar injury in 2013, missing seven weeks, during which the Packers went 2-4-1. So there’s a chance all is not lost, but head coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t seem to be interested in having a friendly chat with Kaepernick.

“Brett Hundley‘s my quarterback. Joe Callahan is the backup,” McCarthy told reporters in a post-game press conference. (Callahan, an undrafted free agent who has appeared in zero games, was languishing on the practice squad prior to Sunday.)

The Packers have gained a rep for developing capable backups, including Rodgers himself, who spent five years holding a clipboard while waiting for Brett Favre to retire. But with the team entering the bye week, why not use the next 14 days to bring Kap in and teach him the offensive system? If all goes well, the Packers would have a starting-caliber signal caller ready to go should Hundley screw the pooch.

A quarterback with the ability to escape the pocket and make plays on his own definitely has value, what with the Packers not only losing Rodgers, but a good chunk of their starting offensive line. Worst-case scenario, Kaepernick fails to impress and they cut him.

They won’t sign him, no matter how many Packers fans beg the team to do it because the NFL general managers, coaches and executives feel that the attendant political noise—no matter how disingenuous it might be— isn’t worth it. They won’t because the Clay Travises of the sports world will dissect Kaepernick’s every waking moment and be ready to shred him should he play at anything less than an Pro Bowl level.

The president, too, will undoubtedly fire off some ham-fisted tweet.

Similarly, the New York Giants refused to take a look at Kaepernick because a few angry fans sent “emotional” letters to the team. The Seahawks were interested but ended up twisting themselves into a Gordian knot explaining that Kaepernick was too qualified for the job. The Baltimore Ravens reportedly were toying with the idea, but even with the head coach and general manager on board, the owner put his foot down.

His NFL career is over, and it doesn’t matter how many dozens of quarterbacks, all of whom are less talented than Kaepernick, find gainful employment this season. It doesn’t matter that analysts who’ve scrutinized Kaepernick’s final season with the San Francisco 49ers agree that he’s good enough. It doesn’t matter how many high-profile players, including Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Von Miller, Richard Sherman, and more, state outright that Kaepernick should be in the NFL.

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He’s done. Period.

For a clear indication of where those with the ability to hire Kaepernick stand, you’ll have to rely on all the unnamed front office personnel and coaches feeding dirt to the league’s various information merchants, whispering about scheme and fit, and using the protective cloak of anonymity to deny that Kaepernick is being blackballed.

Kaepernick knows that he’s better than any available free agent quarterback, including ones lured out of retirement and back into mediocrity, like Jay Cutler. If he thought otherwise, he wouldn’t be dragging the league before an arbiter, charging the all 32 owners with colluding to keep him from playing the game. It’s going to be a tough case to win, according to Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann, unless he’s managed to dig up concrete evidence showing that multiple teams and/or the NFL itself worked in concert to keep him sidelined.

To be clear, if Kaepernick did sign with Green Bay, it wouldn’t have much impact on the question of prior collusion. But unless a player is an unquestioned star like Brady or Ezekiel Elliott, forcing the NFL to hire lawyers will only harden executives’ anti-Kaepernick sentiments, given that many were already throwing around words like “traitor” to describe him.

If only the Packers were willing to listen to Aaron Rodgers, who told ESPN in a previous interview, “I think [Kaepernick] should be on a roster right now. I think because of his protests, he's not.”