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NFL teams must finally treat Colin Kaepernick like any other available player

Mike Florio wonders if the NFL's relationship with Colin Kaepernick will begin to thaw after a weekend that saw Roger Goodell post a video about standing up to racism and admitting fault in not listening to the players.

Colin Kaepernick last played NFL football on January 1, 2017. More than three years later, he has received no offers from any NFL teams. More than three years later, he has received no invitation to work out for any NFL teams.

Other than a visit to (not a workout with) the Seahawks in 2018, Kaepernick has been ignored by the NFL’s 32 teams for three full seasons.

Now that the NFL possibly has seen the light when it comes to the reasons for Kaepernick’s anthem protests and the decision to blackball him, ostensibly for business reasons, the question becomes whether Kaepernick’s name will be moved back into the column of men who will be contacted for potential workouts and/or contracts as part of the never ending roster churn that happens for every NFL team.

Since he became a free agent in March of 2017, Kaepernick has been excluded from that column. Some coaches and/or executives, whispering into the ears of reporters happy to have the scoop, fashioned false narratives to clumsily justify Kaepernick’s removal from consideration for a starting job, a backup job, anything.

Now that more than three years have passed since Kaepernick played in the NFL, the best argument for keeping him out of the NFL becomes that he hasn’t played in the NFL in more than three years. But that’s not his fault; he didn’t excommunicate himself.

So the challenge moving forward for a coach, a G.M., and ultimately an owner will be to set aside the fact that Kaepernick hasn’t played since January 1, 2017 and to give him fair consideration for a spot on the depth chart. Once teams are able to conduct business on a normal (or somewhat normal) basis, they’ll be realizing that some players on the preseason roster aren’t good enough to make it to the regular-season roster. They’ll be confronting the realities of injuries or, possibly, COVID-19 infections. Inevitably, they’ll be working out players at every position.

After three-plus years of a Schrutian cold shoulder, will Kaepernick be unshunned? Will he get a free and fair chance to show what he can do?

The team that considers Kaepernick first will have to be willing to absorb criticism from those who hate Kaepernick. Then, if the team genuinely concludes that Kaepernick isn’t good enough to be signed (or that he’s not good enough to migrate from the 90-man roster to the 53-man roster), it will have to be willing to absorb criticism from those who support Kaepernick.

In this moment, hopefully at least one team will have the courage and fortitude to take flak from one or both camps. At a time when the key word sweeping the nation, and the world, is equality, Kaepernick deserves something he hasn’t received in more than three years: An equal shot.

To get an equal shot, at least one owner will have to not care about the consequences of doing the right thing. Many people worth far less money than the average NFL owner are currently making decisions and taking action without regard to consequences. If the NFL wants to convert Commissioner Roger Goodell’s Friday night words into meaningful and tangible change, the first step will be to to stop treating Kaepernick like a pariah and to subject him to the same merit-based assessments that happen all the time in the NFL, with players being hired and fired and hired and fired and at all times evaluated based solely on what they can do to help a team win.

From Kaepernick’s perspective, it won’t be easy. He’ll have to find a way to set aside his inherent (and justified) mistrust of the league. And given the fact that he hasn’t played for so long, he’ll have to take whatever he can get financially, at least until he re-establishes himself.

Regardless, the image of Kaepernick in an NFL uniform again (whether he actually plays or not) would be powerful, and helpful, at this unique and fragile time in American history. He should get the opportunity to wear a uniform only if his current talents truly merit it, but it’s likely when considering some of the names already on NFL rosters that he could roll out of bed on any given day and be more talented and accomplished than plenty of them.