LOS ANGELES — All 32 NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason programs, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned, sustaining persistent speculation over whether he is being ostracized for his symbolic protests.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell again disputed those claims at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, while onstage with NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer during the “Rams All-Access” event.
According to Goodell, teams “all want to get better. And if they see an opportunity to get better as a football team, they’re going to do it. They’re going to do whatever it takes to make their football team better. So those are football decisions. They’re made all the time. I believe that if a football team feels that Colin Kaepernick, or any other player, is going to improve that team, they’re going to do it.”
Kaepernick helped the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and is only 29. He posted solid numbers despite playing on a 2-14 49ers team last season, but he has received scant interest on the free-agent market this offseason.
The quarterback recently visited with the Seahawks, but Seattle instead signed Austin Davis, who hasn’t played a game since 2015. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll nonetheless called Kaepernick “a starter in this league,” adding, “We have a starter,” in reference to Russell Wilson.
For some, the Seahawks’ move validated claims that Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem last season — a choice he said he made to raise awareness for social injustice and police brutality — has driven teams away, either because they’re uncomfortable with his symbolic gesture or don’t want to deal with the backlash from signing him.
In late May, New York Giants owner John Mara told TheMMQB.com that his team has heard from fans who would be angry if Kaepernick were added to its roster. Said Mara: “All my years in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue. ‘If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game.’ It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, more so than any other issue I’ve run into.”
“It did spark conversation, which I think is a part of what Colin Kaepernick intended to do,” Goodell said when asked about Mara’s comments. “I don’t think that’s going to affect people from saying, ‘I’m going to do what’s in the best interest of my football team and give my team the best chance to win,’ because that’s what every team wants to do.”
Many have said Kaepernick is no longer a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL and have pointed to that as the primary reason he remains unsigned. Many others have alluded to the fact that less-accomplished quarterbacks have been able to find work and say Kaepernick’s social activism is the chief reason he remains unemployed.
Kaepernick established himself as one of the NFL’s more dynamic quarterbacks under Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers teams from 2012 to ’14, leading them to the Super Bowl and then the NFC Championship Game in the first two seasons of that stretch.
But Kaepernick struggled to keep his starting job under coach Jim Tomsula in 2015. Under Chip Kelly in 2016, he replaced Blaine Gabbert and started the final 11 games, completing 196 of 331 passes while throwing for 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. But the Niners finished with two victories, and Kaepernick opted out of his contract, joining the free-agent market.
Goodell was asked whether he would like to see a team sign Kaepernick.
“I don’t get involved in personnel decisions with the clubs,” he said during a dinner in front of hundreds of fans. “Those are decisions that the 32 clubs are going to have to make individually. They’re going to give whatever player they think can help them win that opportunity. And I think that’s what’s great about the NFL is that we’re a meritocracy, and you earn your opportunities and you get to keep your opportunities on the way you perform, ultimately. That’s what the NFL is about. I think that’s why fans love the game. People go out and they earn those opportunities, and it’s a competitive league, which is great for us.”