For all intents and purposes, the Seattle Seahawks have a litany of factors that make the franchise a suitable free-agent fit for Colin Kaepernick. A strong veteran locker room anchored by a culture of free-thinkers. A front office willing to embrace talent in the face of unpopularity. And an offense styled toward quarterbacks with mobility and a penchant for improvisation.
But if the Seahawks sign Kaepernick, there is one overriding factor that sets them apart: Multi-billionaire owner Paul Allen – who allows head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to shape the football team as they wish. For many other NFL teams, such autonomy between ownership and management doesn’t exist. But in the case of a player who evokes strong debate in the NFL’s collective fan base, a sovereign football operation might be what ultimately gets Kaepernick onto a roster.
Perhaps as much as any NFL team on the map, the Seahawks’ coaching staff and front office has the freedom to make roster decisions without getting ownership sign-off. Could Kaepernick be one of the rare special circumstances? Yes. But if Allen’s history is any indication, he’ll leave the decision in the hands of his coach and general manager. That’s what Allen has done during the entirety of Carroll and Schneider’s tenure together – with the owner following his self-professed belief in hiring smart leaders and letting them do their jobs.
That’s not to say other NFL front offices don’t have the juice to sign Kaepernick on their own. At least a handful would. The Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals have owners who spearhead their personnel departments, streamlining decisions to a fairly simplistic level. In other franchises, a significant level of power has been granted from above. The New England Patriots are one, with owner Robert Kraft giving Bill Belichick the final say over all roster moves. The Denver Broncos are another, with owner Pat Bowlen’s health struggles essentially giving general manager John Elway authority over the entire organization.
While Carroll and Schneider don’t have that kind of juice on the business end, they have historically added talent with the total authority granted to them by Allen. It’s most apparent around draft time, when the Seahawks are often seen as one of the “port in the storm” franchises for players with concerning character flags. Perhaps none more obvious than defensive end Frank Clark, who was dismissed from the University of Michigan on the heels of an ugly police report stemming from a domestic violence allegation. Clark was ultimately selected by the Seahawks in the second round of 2015 draft, leaving Schneider to answer to some controversy that followed the selection.
Clark has been the most widely debated red-flag pick for Seattle but he wasn’t the first or last. Indeed, the team’s first pick in this past draft – defensive lineman Malik McDowell – was a first-round talent who fell to Seattle in the second largely because of questions about his effort and locker room demeanor. Several teams had serious concerns about how coachable McDowell would be in the NFL. But Seattle has made a living taking risks on players who others shy away from.
Not that Kaepernick falls into the traditional “red flag” category. His only real transgressions – or “baggage” – in the eyes of NFL teams relate to some mixture of health, ability, money or social advocacy pursuits. For whatever reason teams have chosen from that set, Kaepernick has been unemployable to this point. He’s in need of a team that fit the right set of factors to bring him aboard. Specifically, Kaepernick requires a team to surface with not only a deficiency somewhere on the quarterback depth chart, but also a set of power brokers who weren’t worried about the noise or media attention bound to initially surround him. A bonus in that equation might be a locker room with leaders who would embrace him from the start.
Enter Seattle, which seems to be a solid fit in three of the most important respects.
First, there is no pressure for Kaepernick to come in and be a starter. Russell Wilson is the unquestioned franchise quarterback, allowing Kaepernick to come in and focus on regaining the form that made him one of the NFL’s most exciting young players from 2012-2013. Wherever he goes, Kaepernick has a significant amount of that work ahead of him – both physically and mentally.
Second, from an offensive fit, Kaepernick’s game dovetails with a fair amount of what the Seahawks do with Wilson. That means there wouldn’t be a need for any remastering in terms of what he does. The biggest concern would be improving his accuracy and mechanics inside an offense that his skills are already suited for. It’s pretty much the same story for every backup quarterback in the NFL. And as much as Trevone Boykin has been an intriguing project, his experience pales in comparison to Kaepernick (not to mention Boykin’s off-field behavior, which has resulted in a pair of arrests this offseason).
Third, even with his social advocacy being a significant part of his life, Kaepernick will blend right in with a locker room that has a never-ending string of strong voices and opinions that stretch beyond the football field. In the measure of public profile, he will have to get in line in Seattle. Guys like Michael Bennett (who called Kaepernick a good fit for his team on Tuesday), Richard Sherman and others have all been there and done that. And if the worry is about additional questions from the media, Carroll chews through those faster than his favorite pack of Bubble Yum. A couple Kaepernick questions and some initial griping from a portion of the fan base isn’t going disassemble the franchise.
Those are three solid pillars to start with, making Seattle a sensible option. But again, it’s Allen’s position at the top of the organization that makes the Seahawks a more likely destination than most. While Kaepernick likely has enough talent to open doors elsewhere, the overriding factor of ownership approval hangs over most destinations. And with the collective of NFL owners still unsure of what caused some of the TV ratings schisms last season, there’s little doubt that the public relations aspects of Kaepernick are going to weigh heavy in many locales.
That could still be the case in Seattle, too – even with the line of credit that Carroll and Schneider have earned from ownership and the fan base. But it’s worth noting that the Seahawks have made a lot of headway going against the grain in recent years. Indeed, they won a Super Bowl largely because of it. It’s also why owner Paul Allen has continued to grant Pete Carroll and John Schneider such roster autonomy.
And if they see Colin Kaepernick as a reasonable use of it, his search for a job will end in Seattle.
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