FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Colin Kaepernick’s NFL tryout sounds more like a setup.
A PR stunt to former teammate Eric Reid, one that comes with all sorts of take-it-or leave-it conditions.
Reid hopes it’s a legitimate conduit back into the league, but his gut feeling that “it’s disingenuous” seems right on the mark.
Yet here we are, nearly three years after Kaepernick was exiled from the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police violence and racial injustice, with the league seemingly making its first significant step toward giving the quarterback another chance.
On Saturday, the NFL is putting on a workout for Kaepernick at the Atlanta Falcons’ suburban training complex, inviting all 32 teams to send representatives.
But there are plenty of reasons for Reid and others to doubt that the NFL is really sincere about reopening its doors to such a divisive figure.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Reid, the Carolina Panthers safety and a former teammate of Kaepernick’s who joined in the kneeling protest and paid a hefty price himself. “At this point, it feels like a PR stunt.”
The NFL’s offer to arrange the workout came as a total surprise to Kaepernick’s camp and even, supposedly, to one of the league’s most plugged-in owners.
“I have not been part of any discussions with the league about that happening,” said Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs. “I was probably as surprised about it as anybody."
The QB was given a mere two hours to accept or reject the proposal. The league turned down his request that the workout be held on a Tuesday — an off day most weeks for NFL teams and normally a time when tryouts are held — or moved back a week or two to give Kaepernick more time to prepare. With the bulk of this week’s games on Sunday, it seems unlikely that any head coaches, general managers or high-level officials will be on hand in Flowery Branch.
A person familiar with the workout says the NFL has refused to provide Kaepernick with a list of teams that plan to attend. The person, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the plans haven’t been released publicly, said a couple of teams reached out to the quarterback’s camp as a courtesy, saying they were caught off guard by the timing and couldn’t be there.
Maybe the league didn’t think Kaepernick would go along with such a proposal, giving them a chance to say he had snubbed their entrée back into the league.
But Kaepernick, who as of Wednesday hasn’t taken a snap in the NFL for 1,046 days, desperately wants a platform to show he’s still good enough to play for someone.
Putting the onus back on the league, Kaepernick made it clear he was showing up with an understanding that teams would dispatch those who can actually make decisions.
“I’ve been in shape and ready for this for 3 years, can’t wait to see the head coaches and GMs on Saturday,” Kaepernick tweeted.
Reid doesn’t think his ex-teammate will get his wish.
“Being that it’s on a Saturday, what decision-makers are going to be able to attend a workout?” he said. Pressed on whether the NFL’s offer at least represented some degree of progress, Reid repeated a quote from Malcolm X: “If you stick a knife nine inches in my back and pull it out six, it’s not progress. It’s still a knife in my back.”
Others are more hopeful that this represents a real chance for Kaepernick to resume his NFL career.
“It’s a huge opportunity for him,” said Miami Dolphins center and captain Daniel Kilgore, who played with Kaepernick on the San Francisco 49ers. “If I know Colin, he’s going to be in shape. He’s going to be ready. He should have fresh legs. I’m sure his arm is feeling pretty good.”
It remains to be seen how many teams will send representatives, but it will probably be most if not all of them. Even those that don’t need a quarterback, such as the Falcons.
“I’m sure we will,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “Who likes a workout better than a scout? Nobody. I’m sure most teams will have people around.”
By scheduling such a unique workout under such strange circumstances, the NFL has given everyone a bit of cover to see for themselves what Kaepernick can bring to a team after such a long layoff, with so many seemingly prime years still ahead of him. He turned 32 less than two weeks ago.
If nothing else, this workout creates plenty of intrigue.
There’s scant evidence — Muhammad Ali comes immediately to mind — of an athlete resuming his career after such a long layoff. Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick both returned to the NFL after missing two full seasons, but neither fully recaptured the form they showed before running afoul of the law.
“It’ll be interesting,” said Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy, whose team has struggled offensively behind quarterback Mitch Trubisky. “He’s been out of the game a little bit, but when he was doing well and playing he definitely was a weapon. I’ll be curious to see how he does.”
There are plenty of teams that seemingly could benefit from Kaepernick’s dual-threat talents.
The winless Cincinnati Bengals recently benched longtime starter Andy Dalton and are known for giving second and third chances to players with much more baggage than Kaepernick supposedly brings. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the AFC playoff mix even after losing Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending injury. The Miami Dolphins could sure use a competent quarterback after flip-flopping between journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen.
The Dolphins will be represented at Kaepernick’s workout, according to coach Brian Flores.
“Having that much time off, you’ve got to get back into the swing of things, but he’s a very good player,” Flores said. “We’ll see what it looks like and do our due diligence.”
But Reid is not optimistic that the Panthers, despite losing quarterback Cam Newton to a foot injury — or any team, for that matter — will actually sign Kaepernick.
To him, the whole process sounds like the league that wants to save face instead of doing the right thing.
“They want the appearance of giving Colin a chance, but they give him two hours’ notice and tell him it has to be on a Saturday when they know decision-makers are traveling,” Reid said.
“Is this real?”
AP Sports Writers Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia, Steve Reed in Charlotte, Steven Wine in Miami, Andrew Seligman in Chicago, Kyle Hightower in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Larry Lage in Detroit, Josh Dubow in Santa Clara, California, John Wawrow in Buffalo and Dennis Waszak in New York contributed to this report.
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Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com