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The NFL’s collusion settlement suggests Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid had a case all along

Friday’s settlement didn’t confirm that the NFL colluded against Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, but it didn’t prove it hadn’t colluded, either.

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Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid settled their collusion case with the NFL on Friday. It was arguably the biggest win that Kaepernick and Reid could have possibly gotten out of the lawsuit.

Kaepernick started his collusion case in November 2017, with Reid joining him the following March. The players were at the forefront of protests about the oppression that people of color face in the United States — protests that have been perhaps the biggest story in the NFL for more than two years.

Mark Geragos, the lawyer representing the Kaepernick and Reid, issued the following joint statement with the NFL:

For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL. As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party.

Because of the confidentiality agreements signed as part of the settlement, we will never know for certain whether or not the owners colluded against Kaepernick and Reid. But this settlement also doesn’t prove that they didn’t collude. The NFL losing its summary judgement motion last August suggests that the Kaepernick and Reid had, at the very least, a viable shot of winning the case.

We also might never know how rich that settlement is. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reported that team officials speculated that it could have been anywhere between $60 and $80 million.

But the amount of money also kind of doesn’t matter.

For the NFL to decide not ride out the lawsuit, and settle with both Reid and Kaepernick instead, suggests that the two players had a case. This settlement also came before discovery, a period in which more evidence is brought forward, was completed. The NFL chose to close the lawsuit before whatever skeletons they might have had in their closet were potentially exposed. They paid for silence.

Collusion cases are “a bitch” to prove, as an NYU law professor explained to SB Nation back in May. If the lawsuit had run its course, Kaepernick and Reid might have lost. In this instance, settlement feels like victory for the two.

Bits and pieces came out after the lawsuit was filed that raised eyebrows about the NFL and its team owners. The plethora of mediocre (and in most cases, worse) quarterbacks who were signed over Kaepernick — like Nathan Peterman, Austin Davis, and Mark Sanchez — was the first red flag. Later, it would take Reid six months to find a team, which was odd considering he was just a 26-year-old Pro Bowl safety. Then came the seven “random” drug tests he received.

In the meantime, the NFL passed a rule essentially banning protest during the national anthem, then backtracked on it like an All-Pro cornerback after receiving negative reaction from fans and players.

That external negativity toward the league never let up. While the protests weren’t as visible in 2018 as they had been the previous two seasons, many high-profile people boycotted the Super Bowl, and musicians cited the NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick as a reason that they wouldn’t perform during the halftime show. Athletes in other sports, such as LeBron James, wore Kaepernick jerseys during Super Bowl week to show their support for the quarterback.

NFL owners are probably happy with this settlement, which may finally take Kaepernick out of headlines for them. Since Kaepernick took his first knee back in 2016, they haven’t been shy about wanting players to stick to football. Most infamously, former Texans owner Bob McNair said at the NFL meetings between players that the owners “can’t have the inmates running the prison.”

Kaepernick knew when he started his protests that there was a chance that he would lose his career over it. He also didn’t care. “This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” Kaepernick said. “I am not looking for approval ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Kaepernick shouldn’t have had to lose his job over standing up for the oppressed. Frustration and anger still lingers because of the way he was seemingly frozen out of the NFL for insisting that the world be a better place.

But Kaepernick put it all on the line anyway, because he saw an opportunity that was bigger than him, or any individual.

For Reid, it felt like a miracle that he even got signed in the first place. And despite the NFL’s best efforts to remove him from their fields, he prevailed. Reid was so good for Carolina, that he signed a three-year extension this offseason. Through that contract, Kaepernick’s protest will still live on in NFL stadiums.

Paying to keep people quiet and shove things under the rug has been a textbook wealthy white man move for years. NFL owners will likely sleep just fine after doling out a few million dollars — divvied up among 32 teams — to Reid and Kaepernick. But the settlement is still significant. For NFL owners to take the loss and run suggests our suspicions about the jig were right all along.