Seattle Seahawks

Settlement with Colin Kaepernick shows NFL money can buy anything. Including silence

Safety Eric Reid, right, kneels with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, center, and outside linebacker Eli Harold, left, during the national anthem before the team’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys in October 2016. Friday, the league and lawyers for Kaepernick and Reid announced a settlement in the players’ collusion case against the NFL.
Safety Eric Reid, right, kneels with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, center, and outside linebacker Eli Harold, left, during the national anthem before the team’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys in October 2016. Friday, the league and lawyers for Kaepernick and Reid announced a settlement in the players’ collusion case against the NFL. AP

Except maybe love, money really can buy anything.

Especially in the NFL.

Years ago, $1 billion of it bought the league’s way out of 20,000 former players litigating against it over concussions.

Now more money just bought the NFL’s way out of its potentially ugly collusion case pressed by Colin Kaepernick and his fellow former kneeling San Francisco 49ers teammate, Eric Reid.

The NFL and lawyers for both players issued joint statements Friday that they had settled their grievance that was in its final stages. An arbiter had been expected to make a ruling this spring.

“For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL,” read Friday’s joint statement of the settlement. “As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances.”

The statement ended with a most telling—and likely damning—part: “The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party.”

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Yes, after years of Kaepernick raising the oppression of minorities into front-page headlines, of forcing the league confront the issue—after the quarterback sparked a cause that still rages on with activist players such as the Seahawks’ Doug Baldwin and others in a recently formed Players Coalition for social change—the NFL bought Kaepernick’s silence.

Just like that, by the NFL writing undoubtedly huge checks to Kaepernick and to Reid, any potentially damaging and embarrassing evidence of blackballing stays locked in league closets.

Once again, money wins.

And the NFL all but prints that.

Think tens of millions, hundreds of millions, even a billion dollar in settlements hurts the NFL? The league collects about $6 billion per year from its television contracts with CBS, NBC and Fox. It takes in another $2 billion annually from ESPN to televise Monday night games. Fox agreed last year to pay the NFL more than $3 billion to broadcast Thursday night games for five seasons.

None of that includes the league’s national advertising and merchandising revenues. Or the profits teams get from the sold-out stadiums. Or the concessions those millions of ticket buyers purchase inside stadiums. Or that the stadiums were constructed largely by public handouts/funds from the cities in which those teams play.

Friday’s confidentiality agreement keeps the settlement terms quiet. Yet it’s not unfathomable that the league gladly agreed to pay Kaepernick, 31, a sum approaching—or even exceeding—the $43.5 million he earned in six seasons as San Francisco’s quarterback, from 2011 through 2016. He has been unemployed, out of the league, the last two seasons.

To review how the league and he got here: Kaepernick and the 49ers agreed to part ways months after he began kneeling on the sideline during national anthems at games in 2016, to increase awareness in our society on police brutality and killings in America.

Reid, a one-time Pro Bowl safety for the 49ers, joined Kaepernick in kneeling soon after those preseason games. Reid remained unsigned from the end of the 2017 season three games into the 2018 season. That’s when Carolina signed him to a one-year contract.

Kaepernick and Reid asserted the league and its teams colluded to keep them unemployed as a response to their kneeling, and the national controversy it created within and for the NFL. It got to the point that the Seahawks and Titans both stayed in their locker rooms rather than be on the sidelines for the anthem before a September 2017 game in Nashville, Tennessee. That was days after President Donald Trump’s comments NFL owners should “fire” players who do not stand for the anthem.

Entire teams, including coaches, staff, players, stay in lockerroom

During 2017 and 2018 there was a natioinal debate whether Kaepernick remained unemployed because he wanted to be a starter in the league or wanted starter-like money no team wants to offer him, or because teams were blackballing him out of the NFL. In 2017 then-Seahawks star Richard Sherman was one who believed the latter.

The whole truth may lie somewhere in between those two.

Yet it was at the least curious a quarterback that at the time was four years and three months removed from starting and just missing winning a Super Bowl, who came a tipped pass by Sherman in the end zone in Seattle from starting a second Super Bowl for San Francisco, a man who threw 16 touchdown passes against just four interceptions for an absolutely awful 49ers team in 2016, had not signed a contract to at least be a backup.

Especially while guys like Mike Glennon get $16 million guaranteed from Chicago and even Kaepernick’s former backup, Blaine Gabbert, got a QB job in Arizona.

In 2017 and again in ‘18, 64 quarterbacks other than Kaepernick had starting or top-backup jobs in the league. That was while Kaepernick was still 29 and 30 years old. While he owned—and still owns—the second-lowest interception rate in NFL history, 1.8 percent, behind only Aaron Rodgers (among those with at least 1,500 pass attempts).

The Seahawks were the first and believed to be only team in those years to have Kaepernick in for a free-agent visit. That was in June 2017.

Seattle, of course, didn’t sign him to be Russell Wilson’s backup. Coach Pete Carroll said at the time: “He’s a starter in this league, you know. And we have a starter.”

That really didn’t explain anything. The Seahawks knew they had Wilson as their starter when they invited Kaepernick to team headquarters that spring of 2017. They still have Wilson as their starter.

Some see Kaepernick as a sell-out for ending his claims for money. Many of those people have been ripping him since he began kneeling during anthems in the summer of 2016.

I see Kaepernick as winning here. Big time.

He took on the NFL. He sacrificed his career for a cause. And yet, as essentially a martyr, he still got cash from the league, likely an amount equivalent to if he was still not only playing but starting in the league—perhaps as much or more than he earned in his career.

And he got it by not playing, but by advocating. By risking, standing firm on a principle. Maybe that money is going to one of the many causes Kaepernick has promoted. We don’t know.

What is clear: You may disagree with what he stands for, and many of you will. Yet it’s undeniable Kaepernick just got a settlement with the NFL for being him. For being absolutely opposite what the league and its owners wanted him to be.

To him, this settlement must feel like a vindication, a validation that he was right. That he was indeed blackballed. That the league knows it was wrong, at least complicit in why no team has signed him the last two years.

Thing is, now, thanks to buying confidentiality, the NFL doesn’t have to admit or confirm anything of that sort.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.


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