CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Colin Kaepernick’s attorney suggested on Saturday in an interview with CNN that the Carolina Panthers would be a potential landing spot for the veteran quarterback now that his collusion grievance with the NFL has been settled.
"I’m going to make a bold prediction that one of three teams picks him up," said Kaepernick’s attorney Mark Geragos, citing the Panthers, New England Patriots and one other team he didn’t identify. "If Cam Newton is out, then the natural place to be is to play with Eric [Reid] in Carolina. I mean, can you imagine?"
Well, can you?
The Panthers are in the market for a backup quarterback. And one with playoff experience, like Kaepernick, would be a solid insurance policy in case Newton suffers a setback after surgery on his right shoulder for the second time in three offseasons.
The Panthers in September signed Reid, who also had a collusion grievance against the NFL and was the first player to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality.
They re-signed Reid last week to a three-year deal worth slightly more than $22 million.
But does Kaepernick, who is 31 and hasn’t played a down since the 2016 season, make sense for Carolina?
Let’s look at the key questions:
Can Kaepernick still play?
This should be the first question, because it doesn’t do the Panthers or any team any good to bring in Kaepernick if he’s washed up. It's concerning that the 2011 second-round pick hasn’t played in two seasons -- even though Kaepernick, according to Reid late last season, works out almost every day to be ready. Kaepernick was 3-16 as the starter during his final two seasons (2015-16) in San Francisco, which could also be a red flag.
But remember, the 49ers were in a rebuilding mode after coach Jim Harbaugh left for the University of Michigan following the 2014 season. The supporting cast around Kaepernick during his last two seasons with the Niners wasn’t close to what he had in the previous three, when he was 25-14 as the starter, including a trip to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season and the NFC Championship Game after the 2013 season.
Newton believes Kaepernick can still play. He said in 2017 it was "unfair" that Kaepernick wasn’t on a roster. "Is he good enough to be on a roster? Is he good enough to be a starting quarterback? Absolutely."
Would he fit in Carolina’s system?
Kaepernick and Newton frequently were compared after the 2011 draft because both were big, athletic, dual-threat quarterbacks. If Carolina offensive coordinator Norv Turner could adjust his system to Newton’s style last season, then he could do the same with Kaepernick. Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. was with Kaepernick in San Francisco in 2012 when the quarterback almost single-handedly led the 49ers to victory against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Ginn said in 2016 that Kaepernick still is "a No. 1 quarterback."
"The type of talent Kaepernick has is no different than what Cam has," Ginn said. "They're freak athletes."
What would it cost?
Kaepernick, according to published reports, wanted $20 million to consider committing to the new Alliance of American Football, in which players earn $225,000 over three years. That didn’t happen. It’s unlikely an NFL team will commit much more than the league minimum for a quarterback who hasn’t played in two seasons. The league minimum for a player with more than seven years in the league is $930,000. Fair market value for Kaepernick likely will be anywhere from $1 million to $2 million. He probably would get a one-year deal, as Reid did last season with Carolina before proving himself.
The Panthers have a little more than $15 million in cap space, with a lot of other needs, so the price tag for a veteran like Kaepernick could be a steal. Money really shouldn’t be a huge factor for Kaepernick, who simply wants another chance. He had a big payday in 2014, when San Francisco gave him a six-year, $126 million deal. He also got a deal last year with Nike as the new face of the company’s "Just Do It" campaign.
Would he be an upgrade from the Panthers’ young QBs?
Based solely on experience, yes, and talent too. The only quarterback on the Carolina roster besides Newton is Kyle Allen. The 2018 undrafted player out of the University of Houston got his first and only start in last season’s finale after Newton was shut down to rest his shoulder and backup Taylor Heinicke was injured. Allen performed well in the win against the New Orleans Saints, but his résumé is limited to 31 pass attempts in two games. Heinicke, who is unsigned, has one start and has appeared in only seven games in two seasons. He is coming off elbow surgery that ended his 2018 season. So the Panthers need a veteran ready to step in should Newton not be ready.
Would Kaepernick be a distraction?
There would be the expected media attention initially, just as there was after the Panthers added Reid. The team did a solid job allowing Reid to be himself and keeping the distraction to a minimum. Newton perhaps said it best when he called Reid a "steal."
"We have great players in this locker room and we've accepted him with open arms," Newton said. "I was thinking to myself, I hope he was and is as excited as everyone is having him. He's a very young, talented football player that has a lot of talent left in his body. For him to be on our team is a great thing. I'm going to stand by him knowing none of that will be a distraction for us winning football games."
Having the support of Newton and being in the same locker room with Reid should minimize any distraction. The Panthers said they didn’t ask Reid in September about whether he planned to continue protesting. He did.
"Like I’ve always said about this stuff, the only time it’s a distraction is when you guys bring it up," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of the media. "As I’ve always said, I try to keep these things separate. To me, it’s about playing football. The players know how I feel about everything. It’s all about what’s going on out on the field."
Reid admitted he heard boos from some fans in the stands, adding, "Everybody is entitled to their opinion."
"When I’m in the community, when I get approached, I can honestly say I’ve not had anybody say stop kneeling in public," Reid added. "It’s all been supportive."
What would be the drawbacks of signing Kaepernick?
Not much beyond the early distraction and potentially a cry from fans for Kaepernick to play if Newton struggles or has a setback. The good thing about that is there’s an entire offseason to get past the distraction part. If the salary is reasonable and Kaepernick proves he can play, then as Newton said about Reid, Kaepernick would be a steal.
Is it realistic Kaepernick will sign with the Panthers?
Reid didn’t sound optimistic Kaepernick would sign with any team last week after the safety re-signed with the Panthers only a few days before a settlement was reached with the NFL.
"Knowing what I know, my hope tank is on E," Reid said. "This is a leverage game, so we'll see what happens moving forward."
How much the settlement changed things remains to be seen, but it seems the tank would be at least half full now.