Mike Kafka: Vikings QB on the field, entrepreneur off it

Vikings quarterback Mike Kafka has had stints with the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. AP Photo/Jim Mone

MANKATO, Minn. -- Mike Kafka would finish his morning workout, unfold in front of the TV and the gnawing sense of idleness would set in. The quarterback had appeared on the verge of beating out Nick Foles for the Philadelphia Eagles' backup quarterback spot only a few weeks earlier, until a fracture in his non-throwing hand triggered his release and ushered him into a realm of uncertainty.

The Northwestern graduate never had been one who could sit still. He trained in the morning, readying himself for an opportunity he wasn't sure would come. It still hadn't arrived, two weeks after the Eagles let him go, and Kafka had enough.

"I started looking into charities, foundations, entrepreneurial-type things," Kafka said. "I wanted something that was close to me. As a quarterback, I was like, 'What can I make better as a quarterback?'"

The answer came to him from years of throwing against the winds that slapped off the shores of Lake Michigan, first as a high school quarterback on the southwest side of Chicago and then at Northwestern. Those hand pouches that quarterbacks used in cold weather were never very effective, and Kafka figured he could make a better one.

He spent his afternoons researching materials, talking to distributors and vetting manufacturers, hoping there would eventually be a market for his project. Friends told him they thought they would use it for hunting, so Kafka developed a camouflage model with slots for shotgun shells. He found a manufacturer in Baltimore, and put up his own money to get the company -- which Kafka called Roo Outdoor -- off the ground.

The pouch Kafka designed is lined with Polartec insulation, a dense, breathable fabric designed to wick away water and trap body heat as it lays flat against the wearer's body. It's selling for $65 on Roo Outdoor's website. "The inside and outside is water-resistant," Kafka said. "Everything on it is, in my eyes, the best we could put together."

Stints with the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars came and went; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought him in for training camp in 2014. Finally, while Kafka toiled on the Buccaneers' practice squad last November, he took his project to Kickstarter. In just over a month, 124 supporters had pledged $15,974 to put Roo Outdoor in motion.

"That set us up for the first 1,000 units," Kafka said. "We were able to pay for our patents, attorney fees, all those types of things. It really helped us and made us more secure."

And right after the project took off, Kafka's NFL prospects got a jolt, too.

He was invited to the NFL's first veteran combine in March, which gave Kafka and other veterans a chance to work out in front of scouts and possibly reboot their careers. The former fourth-round pick had a solid performance in Arizona, and the Minnesota Vikings signed him to a one-year, $660,000 contract on April 1.

"I think there were, what -- six or seven guys that got signed out of that thing?" Kafka said. "I was fortunate enough to get another opportunity, and I don't take it for granted."

As Kafka tries to win the third quarterback spot on the Vikings' roster, his wife Allison is managing Roo Outdoor. The first 200 units will be ready to ship in the next 10 days or so, Kafka said, and he's hoping to get the product on the shelves of major sporting goods retailers.

He also started an executive MBA program through the University of Miami, thanks to a NFL initiative that allows players to combine online and on-site coursework in an 18-month plan structured around the football season. And he's writing for Entrepreneur.com, as part of a partnership between the site and NFL Players, Inc.

"I've kind of been able to put some things together that are fun and interesting, and still be able to do the thing I love," Kafka said.

Should he make the Vikings' roster before their final season outdoors, Kafka will have a natural market for his business. He's hoping he's a ways from his primary source of income being anything other than quarterbacking, but he's got plans in motion beyond the field.

"Football is my number one passion," Kafka said. "Everything off the field is kind of filtered through football. I've had a ton of fun with it."