McMullen: Football vs. Ideology. Did the Eagles Really Consider Colin Kaepernick?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Colin Kaepernick hasn't played in an NFL game in nearly 1,000 days but whenever there is a job opening at quarterback in the league, the specter of his career is placed in front of that organization.
It was the Philadelphia Eagles turn on Sunday after injuries to potential backups in consecutive preseason weeks resulted in the team reaching out to 40-year-old Josh McCown and luring the 18-year veteran out of the broadcast booth for one more go-round as one of the more accomplished backups in the league, this time to Carson Wentz.
Why McCown over Kaepernick?
First, understand the Eagles have set up a traditional system in their front office where the general manager, Howie Roseman, assembles the talent and gives it to Doug Pederson to coach. They've also, for the most part, given Roseman the microphone in the offseason and shifted the baton back to Pederson in-season when it comes to messaging.
So it was Pederson who fielded the inevitable query about Kaepernick, one of many polarizing figures on a political landscape where the extremes number few but get a disproportionate voice in the public discourse.
"We consider everybody, honestly," the Eagles coach said. "We consider everybody and do what's best for the Eagles."
In was short and sweet and to the wing nuts on the left further evidence that Kaepernick has been blackballed by the NFL, a former Super Bowl QB being punished for the act of kneeling for social justice. To their counterparts on the right, Kaepernick is a terrible player who offers little more than distraction and insults both police and American troops with his disrespect.
The truth, as it always does, lies in between and needs context. The Kaepernick who nearly beat the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII would be a starting QB in the NFL today, never mind employed even if kneeling in disrespectful socks portraying police as a farm animals.
The post-three surgery 2016 Kaepernick who rehabbed away from the San Francisco 49ers and showed up with a different body for Chip Kelly isn't that guy from a football perspective and the "distractions" -- even altruistic ones -- certainly play into any decision an organization may make when it comes to a run-of-the-mill player.
Maybe Jimmy Johnson explained the NFL best when he told his players with the Cowboys "I'll treat you all fairly but not the same," a nod toward pragmatism in that stars are always getting more chances than back-of-the-roster players.
What enters next is that people outside the NFL don't necessarily understand that because you were once a star in 2013 doesn't mean you're grandfathered into that class in perpetuity. Further muddying that is people in the industry itself paying lip service to that notion even though they understand it's false in an effort to forward an ideology they believe in.
The result is the mess you see today.
In truth the Eagles had been in contact with McCown even before Nate Sudfeld got hurt, never mind Cody Kessler, multiple NFL sources have told 973espn.com. If Kaepernick really was discussed, it was likely in reference to how to handle the questions about him and little more than that.
"It just kind of comes up," Pederson said of McCown. "We discuss a lot of players obviously. I can’t and won't go into a lot of detail with that. We discuss a lot of players throughout camp. We're looking at everybody's roster and even guys like in his case obviously who had semi-stepped away from football."
As for Kaepernick, his signing wouldn't be a Roseman or Pederson decision anyway, that's a Jeffery Lurie call and I personally asked the Eagles owner, one of the more progressive in the NFL, about the "blackballing issue" back in Sept. of 2017 when a Kaepernick return was at least more plausible.
"I think the definition of being 'blacklisted' is some discussion among some people to not hire, not approve, or something like that," Lurie said. "I've never had a discussion with anybody. It doesn't work that way. There's no communication whatsoever. We're very competitive against each other, 32 owners."
"I don't reveal anything. They [other owners] don't reveal anything," he continued. "There's never been any discussion about any player in my 23 years in the league, I've never heard any discussion of any player in the league like that. You keep it to yourself. You have your own strategy. I think that's the way it works."
On the issue as a whole, Lurie also explained his thought process when it comes to those who have used the National Anthem to protest, including his own star safety Malcolm Jenkins, who used to raise his fist in an effort to raise awareness for social-justice reform.
"Social injustice is a big problem in America," Lurie said. "It's a big problem around the globe. Anybody who wants to do proactive things to try to reverse social injustice, I'm all in favor of. It has to be respectful. It certainly has to respect the military and the men and women who serve our country. Emergency responders. Whoever that is. If you do it in a respectful way."
"I applaud anybody that can find respectful ways of trying to find their platform in some way," Lurie further explained. "We all need to discuss social injustice. We've all seen it. It's multiple issues. It's not simple racial issues. There's a lot of economic issues. Players have grit and determination, there's no boundary on how that grit and determination gets expressed. Sports is an opportunity to bring people together. I applaud when players can bring communities together."
The final part of this is Jenkins, a player whose GPS always starts from the high road.
Eric Reid, Kaepernick's friend and top supporter infamously called Jenkins a sellout and neo-colonist for working with the league and has recently said similar things about Jay-Z when the hip-hop mogul decided to work with the NFL on social-justice initiatives last week.
Kaepernick isn't Reid of course but a word the extreme left likes to use when it suits their goals is "complicit" and Kaepernick has never walked back any of the criticisms leveled toward Jenkins.
Lurie is very close to Jenkins but those who believe that's the reason Kaepernick isn't in Philadelphia don't understand the Pro Bowl safety, who is still politicking for players who have wronged him.
"I think that opportunity is all he’s really asking for. And I’ve made that known here over the last few years, multiple times. That whenever there’s an opportunity for us to add a quarterback I want to make sure his name is in the conversation," Jenkins said. "Obviously [the Eagles] didn’t make that decision but I’ll continue to bang the table for him."
Colin Kaepernick isn't in Philadelphia because the Eagles don't think he can help as much as Josh McCown on the football field. There's room to disagree there but football isn't ideology.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen