In recent days, the spotlight has swung back to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, rekindling discussions surrounding his football future. The chatter reached a crescendo when rapper J.Cole unveiled a letter Kaepernick had dispatched to Joe Douglas, the General Manager of the New York Jets. In this missive, Kaepernick passionately made his case for a spot on the Jets’ practice squad.
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The Jets’ Pass on Kaepernick
However, despite Kaepernick’s heartfelt plea, the New York Jets decided to go in a different direction, ultimately signing Trevor Siemian. But here’s where the plot takes an intriguing turn – another professional football team has thrown its hat into the ring for Kaepernick’s services. Enter the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League (CFL), whose interest in Kaepernick was made public by TSN’s Farhan Lalji in a report last Thursday.
The CFL’s Unique Negotiation List
Now, before we jump to conclusions, it’s crucial to understand the peculiarity of the CFL’s negotiation list. This list serves as a unique feature of the CFL, allowing each of its nine teams to add up to 45 players. However, inclusion on this list does not guarantee any contractual agreement between the player and the team. Most often, these players never set foot on a CFL field. Instead, being on the negotiation list means that if a player decides to join the CFL, they must either sign with the team that listed them or negotiate a trade of their rights to another preferred destination. (Additionally, players on this list can activate a 10-day clause, compelling the CFL team to extend an offer or relinquish their rights, as we saw with Terrell Owens in 2018.)
Kaepernick’s CFL Journey: Past Attempts and Present Prospects
Kaepernick’s name has previously appeared on CFL negotiation lists without any deals being struck. He was on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ negotiation list from March to September 2017 before being removed, despite his agent asserting no CFL interest at that time. Later that September, the Montreal Alouettes added Kaepernick to their list but failed to make headway in signing him. In August 2020, Justin Dunk of 3 Down Nation reported Kaepernick’s reemergence on the Ticats’ negotiation list. (Typically, negotiation lists are shrouded in secrecy, but in recent years, the CFL has mandated that teams disclose 10 names from their lists each September and December. Kaepernick’s name was not among the disclosed names in December or the most recent September.)
CFL’s History of NFL Transfers
However, it’s worth noting that CFL negotiation lists have borne fruit in the past, sometimes with higher-profile players than one might expect. A prime example is Johnny Manziel, who initially tried out for the Tiger-Cats in 2017, signed with them in 2018 (following a special arrangement from the league commissioner due to Manziel’s prior domestic violence incidents), briefly served as a backup, engineered a trade to the Alouettes, had a stint as their starter, and then was released and banned from the league for violating his contract conditions in February 2019.
Successful Transitions to the CFL
But there have also been instances of lesser-known players making a smooth transition to the CFL. These include former Alabama/Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson and former Ole Miss star quarterback Chad Kelly. Kelly, in particular, validated his talent this year, earning a substantial new contract and leading the Toronto Argonauts to the league’s best record, supplanting 2022 CFL passing leader McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who departed for the USFL this offseason. Some marquee players have arrived in the CFL with a bit of drama but still managed to make a significant impact, as was the case with Chad Johnson in 2014.
Kaepernick’s Dilemma: A New Opportunity in the CFL?
The question that lingers is whether Kaepernick would entertain the notion of joining the CFL. In both 2017 and 2020, it appeared that he was not inclined to do so. This reluctance is understandable, given that the CFL has remained somewhat off the radar in the United States, despite securing a CBS Sports Network deal and streaming all its games for free. Moreover, the CFL poses unique challenges, especially for quarterbacks who must adapt to rule differences compared to American football, such as 12 players per side, three downs, and a larger playing field. Many successful CFL quarterbacks, including Chad Kelly, began their journey as backups.
A Potential Fit for Kaepernick?
This situation may not align with Kaepernick’s aspirations. Moreover, he would likely have to accept a secondary role, at least initially, with Vernon Adams Jr. performing commendably for the B.C. Lions (following Nathan Rourke’s departure for the NFL, where he made a favorable impression with the Jacksonville Jaguars during the preseason before being re-signed to their practice squad). Adams has steered the Lions to an impressive 10-4 record, sharing the top spot in the Western Conference.
Conclusion: The CFL as a New Path
Nonetheless, Kaepernick’s mobility has often marked him as a quarterback suitable for the CFL’s style of play. The league has a history of embracing talented quarterbacks whom the NFL has overlooked for various reasons. With Kaepernick now at the age of 35 (approaching 36 in November), and with NFL teams seemingly lukewarm about his return, coupled with his last NFL appearance dating back to 2016, the CFL may present a more enticing opportunity than in the past.
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