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John Elway’s reason for passing on Colin Kaepernick is disingenuous, at best

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Elway is right that Kaepernick “had his chance” to join the Broncos, but it doesn’t explain the team’s decision to avoid him now.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It has now been well over a year since Colin Kaepernick became a free agent in March 2017. After seven months of struggling to find another NFL contract, Kaepernick filed a grievance in October alleging teams colluded to keep the quarterback out of the league due to his decision to protest racial inequality during the playing of the national anthem.

One of the NFL executives deposed in the case was Denver Broncos general manager John Elway, who once came close to brokering a trade with the 49ers for Kaepernick.

On Thursday, Elway explained why the Broncos haven’t considered signing Kaepernick to a roster that has Chad Kelly and Paxton Lynch fighting to be No. 2 on the depth chart.

“Colin had his chance to be here,” Elway said. “We offered him a contract; he didn’t take it. As I said at my deposition, and I’m not sure if I’m legally able to say this, he’s had his chance to be here. He passed it.”

Technically, Elway isn’t lying. Kaepernick did have a chance to join the Broncos and passed. But it’s not quite that simple.

1. The Broncos pursued Kaepernick before he began protesting. When Denver gave a contract offer to Kaepernick, it was as part of a trade negotiation between the Broncos and 49ers in spring 2016.

Denver won the Super Bowl earlier that year, but Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler spurned offers to re-sign with the Broncos and opted to join the Houston Texans in free agency instead.

With no starting experience left on the roster, the Broncos tried to trade for Kaepernick who was falling out of favor in San Francisco after declining stats in 2014 and 2015. The compensation of the trade was never revealed, but Denver reportedly asked that the quarterback take a $12.4 million cut in base salary over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, lowering his salary to $7 million in each year.

Kaepernick didn’t agree to the offer and instead received $14.3 to be the 49ers’ quarterback in 2016.

2. Denver showed zero interest in signing Kaepernick after his release. A year after Kaepernick chose not to take a pay cut to join Denver, the Broncos’ quarterback situation wasn’t much better. A first-round pick was used on Paxton Lynch, but veteran help was still needed.

But despite being willing to trade resources to acquire the quarterback a year earlier, and despite being able to negotiate a price likely cheaper than the $7 million they wanted to give Kaepernick in 2016, and despite the fact that Kaepernick bounced back with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2016, the Broncos no longer wanted him.

Apparently, according to Elway, Kaepernick’s only chance to join the Broncos was to take a pay cut in 2016. When he chose to stay in San Francisco, Kaepernick said no forever.

3. The Broncos welcomed Brock Osweiler back with open arms. That same logic, then, didn’t apply to Osweiler, who was once considered the Broncos’ quarterback of the future before he shunned Denver and joined the Texans. He literally shunned them.

Evidently, Elway’s feelings weren’t too hurt because he scooped up Osweiler for a reunion 18 months later when the quarterback became a free agent. The Broncos went 0-4 in the four games Osweiler started in 2017.


There’s a reason Elway was one of the executives deposed in Kaepernick’s collusion case. The Broncos were a logical landing spot for the quarterback and a team that was previously interested in trading away resources to get him.

Kaepernick’s protests are the most logical explanation for what looks like a 180 from the Broncos. So while Elway’s assertion that Kaepernick “had his chance” to be with the Broncos is true, it doesn’t explain why Denver isn’t interested now.