The Eagles are approaching the point that they should start considering whether it’s worth signing Colin Kaepernick. This is not a hot take. This is not an attempt to generate internet clicks or earn a seat at a sports-debate screamfest on ESPN or FoxSports 1. This is a reasonable and understandable assertion, when one looks at the reality of the team’s backup quarterback situation, based on the available evidence. This is not a demand that the Eagles sign Kaepernick as a matter of conscience, as a sign of support for his protest-kneel during the national anthem or his commitment to any number of social causes. This is not a breaking-news story revealing that they will sign Kaepernick. This is an explanation for why they probably ought to think about it.
The reasons begin with the mystery around Nick Foles, who has not taken a snap for them in any of their three preseason games. After missing two weeks with what has been called a sore elbow, he practiced against the Dolphins on Monday and Tuesday before sitting out Thursday’s game. It’s possible, of course, that head coach Doug Pederson and the Eagles are being particularly cautious with Foles, that the soreness will subside in time. But there has been enough confusion about the severity of Foles’ injury that there’s reason to be skeptical. On Tuesday, for example, Pederson said that if the Eagles were in the regular season, Foles would be healthy enough to play. But at virtually the same time Pederson was saying that, Foles himself was saying that he would be out of the lineup Thursday. In fact, his absence remained a surprise to at least one teammate right up until kickoff.
“He’ll be fine, hopefully,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said after the Eagles’ 38-31 victory. “I have no clue what his status is now, but I thought he was playing.”
If Foles’ arm heals, or if Carson Wentz takes 99.47 percent of the regular-season snaps again, the Eagles will have no problem to solve. But it’s fair at the moment to doubt whether either of those things will happen, and if one or both don’t, then the Eagles will have a major problem. Matt McGloin has performed so poorly throughout training camp and the preseason that it’s possible, even likely, that he won’t earn a roster spot. And if the Eagles keep Foles on the active roster but aren’t completely confident that he can suit up, they would have to keep a third quarterback, hampering their depth at another position.
The ideal solution, it would seem, would be to have a backup quarterback who is experienced and accomplished enough that the Eagles offense could be respectable even without Wentz. (Yes, if Wentz were to suffer a serious injury, the Eagles’ season would pretty much be toast. But respectability — and the chance, however small, to achieve something more — matters. Ask anyone who watched Mike McMahon replace Donovan McNabb in 2005 and Jeff Garcia replace McNabb in 2006.) Foles is supposed to be that quarterback, but no one seems to know if or when he’ll be available, and it’s late: The Eagles’ season-opener, against the Redskins, is two weeks away. Their options are limited. Is it that crazy to think Kaepernick could be one?
“I don’t think it’s crazy to say that,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “To address the elephant in the room, I don’t think we would not sign him because of all he has going on. At least, I would hope not. I think he would be a good fit.”
There’s a lot to unpack in what Jenkins said, so let’s open the suitcase and get to it. Questions still hover around Kaepernick and his professional desires and intentions. Does he want to start somewhere? Would he consent to be a backup? What kind of contract would he sign? Which matters more to him: his football career or his activism? For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume that he would be willing to back up Wentz. The Eagles are well- equipped and positioned to handle the controversy that Kaepernick’s arrival would inspire. In Jenkins, Smith—who was Kaepernick’s teammate for two years with the San Francisco 49ers—and Chris Long, the Eagles have three veterans who have been publicly supportive of Kaepernick’s cause and could offer him a soft landing here. It’s notable, in that regard, that Jenkins’ raising of his fist during each rendition of the national anthem has hardly turned him into a pariah, either inside the Eagles’ locker room or outside it.
“Anytime you’re a team that needs a quarterback, there’s that guy who can start for you out there,” Smith said. “In any case, if that was the decision they’d decide to make, we’d embrace it with open arms.”
Smith overstated things a bit. There are NFL teams for whom Kaepernick would start—Jacksonville, for one. But he would not start for every team, and it’s intellectually dishonest, when speculating about why he remains a free agent, to omit a hard truth: The overall quality of his play has regressed since the end of the 2013 season, when he led the 49ers to their third consecutive NFC championship game. Few NFL owners are willing to court the fan backlash and media attention that Kaepernick would command just to acquire a better No. 2 quarterback.
But the Eagles and owner Jeffrey Lurie already did something similar once before, and not that long ago. In August 2009, after Michael Vick finished his 18-month prison term for his role in a dogfighting ring, the Eagles signed him to be a Wildcat-formation threat and the third-string quarterback behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb. (For those quick to suggest I’m equating Vick’s crimes with Kaepernick’s exercise of his First Amendment rights, please, stop. The acts don’t have to be comparable for their subsequent public outrage to be.) Thirteen months later, Vick became the Eagles’ starting quarterback, and part of the reason he revitalized his career over his five years in Philadelphia was that it didn’t take long for the indignation and protests to dissipate—because here, the football mattered most.
It still does. Late Thursday night, Pederson said he wasn’t sure whether Foles would play in the Eagles’ final preseason game, against the Jets. The longer this question lingers, the tougher the Eagles’ choices become, and they will have to consider all of them, even the uncomfortable ones. Even Colin Kaepernick.