A year and a half after entering free agency and five years after he started in Super Bowl XLVII, Colin Kaepernick is still not playing in the NFL. It’s not that there aren’t QB positions available — noted 32-year-old meme Mark Sanchez is just the most recent of the over 50 signal callers who’ve gotten roster spots since Kaepernick has been on the market.
His peers who are still on the field, from fellow activist Eric Reid to Jalen Ramsey to Aaron Rodgers, believe he can play. In fact, according to audio obtained by the New York Times, members of the Players’ Coalition insisted that Kaepernick’s signing was integral to their cause during a meeting with NFL owners earlier this year. “If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive,” said Chris Long. “We all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster.”
But ultimately, the players aren’t making the rosters — that’s up to the coaches, general managers, and team owners, all of whom have varying degrees of influence and involvement in day-to-day roster construction, depending on their franchises. Some have emphatically dismissed the notion they’d even consider hiring Kaepernick, a boon for his ongoing grievance against the NFL alleging that owners colluded to keep him from getting hired. Just this week, a Washington football team source told PFT’s Mike Florio that “Kaepernick won’t be signed by Washington, ever.”
Other NFL decision-makers, though, have been more encouraging of the quarterback, insisting he does have the talent to be on the field and that someone should hire him — they just conveniently stop short of drawing up the contracts themselves.
Here’s a list of every NFL coach, general manager, and team owner who’s vouched for the fact that Kaepernick should probably have a job, yet haven’t gone the distance themselves.
Robert Kraft, owner, New England Patriots
“Let me say this: I would very much like to see him in the league,” Kraft told the New York Times in a feature published Nov. 16, 2018. When pressed on whether his own team had actively considered hiring the QB as a backup — as had been rumored earlier in the season — Kraft said, “I’m done talking about it.”
Pete Carroll, head coach, Seattle Seahawks
“We’re still watching him ... We’re real aware of him, and he’s a fine football player and there may be a place,” Carroll told reporters during a pre-draft press conference on April 23, 2018 — two weeks after it had been reported that the Seahawks cancelled a workout when Kaepernick refused to say he’d stop kneeling during the 2018 season.
Jon Gruden, head coach, Oakland Raiders
”I think there’s a lot of intrigue there,” Gruden told ESPN at the coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings on March 27, 2018. “His performance on the field wasn’t very good, on tape ... he got beat out by [Blaine] Gabbert to start the  season. I think that says something. [But] I am surprised he’s not in camp with somebody. He probably will be soon.”
Bill O’Brien, head coach, Houston Texans
After Deshaun Watson tore his ACL last season, O’Brien was asked at a press conference if Kaepernick was in the conversation to replace him. “Oh yeah, everybody gets discussed,” he replied, according to a Nov. 6, 2017, report from the Associated Press. “Is that a problem? Isn’t that the way most teams do it? People seem shocked by that.”
Stephen Ross, owner, Miami Dolphins
Last summer, Ross expressed his conviction that there was no way Kaepernick would be kept out of a job because of his activism. “I would sure hope not,” he told the Palm Beach Post on July 28, 2017. “I know a lot’s been written about it, but you know owners and coaches — they’ll do anything it takes to win. If they think he can help them win, I’m sure — I would hope they would sign him.”
Since then, Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill, and Brock Osweiler have started for the Dolphins, going for a combined 11-15 record.
Shad Khan, owner, Jacksonville Jaguars
Local radio analyst Mike Dempsey asked Shad Khan if he’d hire Kaepernick if his staff recommended it. He replied, “Absolutely.” A week later, Tom Coughlin, his VP of football operations was asked if they’d consider hiring Kaepernick. “No. We did the study, the research, and we weren’t interested,” Coughlin told the AP on Sept. 4, 2017. “I’m not explaining it.”
John Mara, co-owner, New York Giants
“I think he still has some good football left in him. I agree with that,” Mara told ESPN New York on Aug. 8, 2017. “But obviously there are other issues that go along with him. Is he willing to sit as a backup behind a starter? What’s that going to do with your locker room, your quarterback room, with your offensive room? ... I believe he’ll be back in the league at some point this year with a team.”
Three months earlier, he’d told the MMQB that the Giants never considered signing Kaepernick while citing all the “emotional mail” he’d received from fans, allegedly in response to player protests.
John Harbaugh, head coach, Baltimore Ravens
“He’s a great guy,” Harbaugh told reporters last summer after starting QB Joe Flacco was injured during training camp. “He’s a guy right now that’s being talked about. We’ll just see what happens with that. Only speculation right now. He’s a really good football player and as I said at the owners’ meetings, I do believe he’ll be playing in the National Football League this year.”
“Steve Bisciotti has not told us we cannot sign Colin Kaepernick, nor has he blocked the move. Whoever is making those claims is wrong,” Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said a week later in the statement, after reports to the contrary.
Jimmy Haslam, owner, Cleveland Browns
Haslam said Kaepernick’s activism would “absolutely not” keep the team from signing him, according to a March 27, 2017, report from the Akron Beacon Journal. “If football people came and recommended [him], we’d go with the football people.”
Bob Quinn, general manager, Detroit Lions
“I still think he has a place in this league,” Quinn told The Detroit News on March 28, 2017. “I don’t think, you know, watching Kap over the years, is he a perfect system fit for us? Probably not. I think he has a great deal of talent. I think he has enough talent to be playing in this league in the right system.”
Jim Caldwell, then-head coach, Detroit Lions
“I don’t think there’s any question he’s capable,” Caldwell told reporters on May 26, 2017. “I was on the other side of the field. Actually, I was in the press box, but nevertheless when he was playing for the 49ers in the Super Bowl. That was only a couple years ago. So, I don’t think that his skill level has diminished to the point where he would be completely ineffective in this league, so we’ll see.”
Clark Hunt, owner, Kansas City Chiefs
“In terms of a player like Colin, I would have no hesitation bringing him into the organization,” Hunt told NBC Sports Radio on July 26, 2017.
Bruce Arians, then-head coach, Arizona Cardinals
“In the right system he’s still a heck of a player,” Arians told reporters on Sept. 27, 2017.
Anthony Lynn, head coach, Los Angeles Chargers
After the Chargers signed Cardale Jones as a back-up last summer, Lynn was asked by the local ESPN affiliate about whether they’d considered Kaepernick. “He’s certainly earned the right to be on a team, and he’s done a lot in this league,” Lynn told the station. “He’s still a young guy, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he wasn’t on someone’s roster real soon.” Jones was cut and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 2, 2018.
Sean Payton, head coach, New Orleans Saints
”I think he’s going to be in a camp,” Payton told the New Orleans Advocate on May 13, 2017. “It is a little surprising that he is still available, and I don’t think he will be available too long. I think the key is the fit and the vision for a club offensively but I think there will be a team that has that vision and has an offense that builds around some of the things he does well.”
Jay Gruden, head coach, Washington
After his starting quarterback, Alex Smith, broke his leg, Gruden and the Washington front office staff brought in free agent Mark Sanchez to back up Colt McCoy. McCoy broke his leg two weeks later. As the 6-6 team assessed its quarterback options, Gruden told reporters of Kaepernick, “He’s been talked about and discussed but we will probably go a different direction.” He said there was “not a lot of time to get a brand new QB and a system installed and taught in a couple days...If it was Week 1, there would be a better possibility.”