PHILADELPHIA — There are only a few times per year when a quarterback is evaluated in a workout in shorts and a T-shirt, and isn’t throwing against a defense — at the NFL Combine in February, at their Pro Day in March, or at a free agent tryout for an NFL team.
These workouts don’t prove if you can play in the NFL. They don’t test your ability to read a defense before the snap, and to set the proper offensive line assignments, and to call a hot route, and read the coverage after the snap, and process where to go with the football before a 250-pound edge rusher rips your head off.
Instead, these workouts are entry exams. If you want to play quarterback in the NFL, then you better be able to “make all of the throws,” to use a popular scouting term. You better be able to throw with good timing, and good touch, and be able to complete passes at all three levels. There are about 80 quarterbacks in the NFL, and every one of them can make all of the throws.
Which brings us to Colin Kaepernick’s workout on Saturday at a high school south of Atlanta. He proved what has been obvious since he last played an NFL game on Jan. 1, 2017 — that he at least belongs in the conversation.
Among the 80 quarterbacks currently on active rosters are names such as Cody Kessler, Chad Kelly, Alex Tanney, and Tim Boyle. Kaepernick, based solely on his skill set and résumé as a former Super Bowl-reaching quarterback, should be getting legitimate tryouts for NFL jobs.
That became apparent on Saturday, when for 40 minutes Kaepernick went through the route tree with his receivers, throwing play-action crossers, intermediate out-patterns, and a few deep shots. Kaepernick was a former baseball pitcher who hit 94 miles per hour in high school, and he showed that even at 32 years old, with nearly three years away from football, he still has a great arm.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter quoted an NFL executive saying Kaepernick’s “arm talent is “elite” and “is the same as when he came out of college.” CBS’ Jason La Canfora tweeted that Kaepernick got “some very positive feedback from the scouts in attendance about his elite arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball.”
But again, this was in shorts and a T-shirt, and with no defense. For Kaepernick to play in the NFL, acing this type of workout is a bare requirement.
It has been obvious that Kaepernick, who received a multi-million dollar settlement from the NFL in March, has been blackballed by the NFL since the end of the 2016 season. Kaepernick went 1-10 as a starter in 2016 (though the 49ers were a total mess) and he was certainly not the same level of quarterback he was in 2012 and 2013. But Kaepernick did have 16 touchdowns against four interceptions in 2016, had a respectable 90.7 passer rating, and averaged 6.8 yards per rushing attempt. Kaepernick was good enough to win games if he was on a better team.
No one knows if Kaepernick can still take the pounding of NFL hits, whether he still has that elite running speed, or how quickly he can process defenses. But Kaepernick did prove on Saturday that, in a vacuum, he still can throw the ball well, and he deserves legitimate tryouts.
Of course, there are fair questions about whether Kaepernick really wants to get back into the NFL. Also fair questions about whether Kaepernick would take a backup or third-string role, or a minimum-level contract. And Kaepernick brings a lot of attention and baggage, and no team wants to deal with that from its backup quarterback.
It’s also hard imagining Kaepernick getting signed by an NFL team any time soon following Saturday’s events. Kaepernick was under no obligation to treat the NFL’s workout as a serious invitation, and he certainly didn’t.
The day quickly turned into a circus, with Kaepernick bailing on the NFL’s workout, holding his own workout 60 miles away, and trading barbs with the NFL about who was more dishonest in this process. Kaepernick wasn’t wrong to be mistrustful and treat it like a sham. If teams really wanted to work him out, they could easily bring him to their facility on a Tuesday and give him an honest look.
“I’ve been ready for three years,’’ Kaepernick told reporters after Saturday’s workout. “I’ve been denied for three years. We all know why I came out here. [I] showed it today in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide. So we’re waiting for the 32 owners, 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all of them, stop running. Stop running from the truth. Stop running from the people.
“We’re out here. We’re ready to play. We’re ready to go anywhere. My agent, Jeff Nalley, is ready to talk [to] any team. I’ll interview with any team at any time. I’ve been ready.’’
Saturday’s verbal war with the NFL should end any notion of Kaepernick signing with a team in the near future. But Kaepernick did prove he still has the minimum athletic skill to warrant a real, honest workout.