NFL was wrong for not signing Kaepernick, admits ex-executive in light of Floyd’s death: 'Vikings should sign him'
Former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, who served as the NFL's primary spokesperson during the take a knee controversy in 2017, has become the first league executive to make a rather candid statement about how the NFL should deal with free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
In an op-ed for CNN, Lockhart argued that the Vikings should sign the controversial civil rights activist. Lockhart shed light on the so-called "anthem controversy" saying Kaepernick launched the kneeling protests only so he could bring awareness to the mistreatment of African Americans and other people of color by law enforcement.
"The situation in Minnesota right now offers a unique opportunity to deal with the symbols of racial injustice. As a small, but important step, the owners of the Minnesota Vikings, Zygi and Mark Wilf, can send a strong message by offering Colin Kaepernick a contract to play with the Vikings. Bring him into camp, treat him like any of the other players given a chance to play the game they love."
The former league executive made a number of assertions, albeit not all were factual — like Kaepernick did not have "several" workouts with NFL teams as he claimed. In fact, he has had no workouts with any team except one visit to the Seahawks. However, Lockhart explained how the league and its franchises tried to grapple with the issues arising from the protests while pointing at Kaepernick's current situation.
“Kaepernick was not blocked because the league wanted to punish him for setting off the protests,” Lockhart asserted. In fact, the teams themselves ignored the league’s “prodding and pushing” to get Kaepernick a job due to fears over how fans would react to hiring someone who set off the protests. “Signing Kaepernick, they thought, was bad for business,” Lockhart noted. “An executive from one team that considered signing Kaepernick told me the team projected losing 20% of their season ticket holders if they did.”
So while Kaepernick was not being punished by anyone in particular, the cold shoulder from 32 NFL teams was a direct result of his protests. Lockhart justified the unemployment of Kaepernick at the time by highlighting the "millions" the league was spending “to help address the problem of racial division in the country.” However, he admitted in the column that he was wrong. "I was wrong. I think the teams were wrong for not signing him. Watching what's going on in Minnesota, I understand how badly wrong we were."
“I know now it was not enough just to spend money to make progress on the issue of racial disparities,” Lockhart wrote. “That is crucial, but so are symbols that reflect that attempt at progress — and also the failure to reach it. And Colin Kaepernick became the symbol of black men being treated differently than white men in America.”
Lockhart now argues that considering the spotlight on the Vikings amid the current controversy, signing Kaepernick would be a good move.
"He’d definitely fit the offense," Mike Florio wrote for NBC Sports, recalling how Broncos hinted at trading for Kaepernick in 2016 when Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was Denver’s head coach.
However, he might not fit the budget. "If offered a job as a backup to Kirk Cousins, one of the highest-paid players in the league, Kaepernick would have to take far less than the $12 million that he made in his final season with the 49ers, or the $20 million that he reportedly wanted from the AAF or the XFL," Florio explained. "Given the team’s salary-cap situation, the Vikings possibly would be limited to offering Kaepernick a deal for the veteran minimum."
According to Florio, Lockhart has not "analyzed the situation from a football perspective" and is simply "connecting two large dots between Minneapolis and the football team that plays there."
And while someone other than the Vikings could offer Kaepernick a contract for 2020, the pandemic has complicated any effort to move things quickly in terms of physicals or in-person workouts. Nonetheless, "given the broader societal circumstances and the fact that the issues for which Kaepernick protested have reached an obvious tipping point, the potential damage to a team’s bottom line should be far less now than it would have been in 2017," Florio noted.