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If Jim Harbaugh returns to NFL, will he sign Colin Kaepernick?

When we reported earlier this month that former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was eyeing a potential return to the NFL and that multiple teams were doing their homework on him, some shouted that he has a three-year extension to stay in Michigan.

That three-year extension still hasn’t been signed.

Amid reports that Michigan may be willing to keep Harbaugh but to reduce his salary and increase his incentives (which, if true, is a passive-aggressive invitation to leave), Harbaugh may be biding his time, waiting to see whether a team like the Jets makes a move. Much remains undecided in this regard, as it usually does. But if, and it’s still a fairly big if, Harbaugh returns to the NFL, here’s the next question: Will he sign Colin Kaepernick?

Early in the shunning of Kaepernick, Harbaugh appeared on PFT Live. I asked what he’d say to any NFL coaches or executives doing due diligence regarding the quarterback.

“I’ll tell you the same thing I tell them,” Harbaugh said in March 2017, “I think he’s an outstanding player and I think he’s a great competitor who has proven it in games and has the ability to be not only an NFL starter but a great NFL player. . . . He’ll have a great career and be a great quarterback, win championships.”

I can already hear it. He said that nearly four years ago! He doesn’t believe it now! But here’s what Harbaugh said about Kaepernick in July 2020, back when a vague sense emerged that he’d get an opportunity to return to the NFL before the clock inevitably, and conveniently, ran out on the topic.

“My personal opinion and really advice to NFL teams is, there’s only one way to answer these questions, one way to find out, and that’s Colin signs somewhere,” Harbaugh said on ESPN. “My advice is he’d be worth your time and that NFL team will be very happy. . . . Colin Kaepernick is a friend, he’s a brother, he’s a great teammate. I love Colin. I think he’s an unbelievably talented football player.”

Harbaugh may not have the power to sign Kaepernick at his next destination, if he returns to the NFL. But he’ll have the ability to advocate aggressively for the team to consider giving Kaepernick that which he has been denied for nearly four years -- a full and fair chance.