It’s been well-documented that Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March 2017. That led to Kaepernick filing a grievance under the league’s collective bargaining agreement in October 2017 when many believed he was being blackballed from the NFL due to his refusal to stand for the national anthem. The collusion case, which also included Eric Reid, was surprisingly settled in February 2019 for an undisclosed amount.
But how would things have turned out for Colin Kaepernick had he not been with the Niners for that famous 2016 season? That apparently almost happened as John Elway and the Denver Broncos were ready to bring him to the Mile High City.
Colin Kaepernick’s quick rise with the San Francisco 49ers
Following a stellar career at the University of Nevada, Colin Kaepernick was selected by the 49ers with the 36th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. He began his pro career as the backup to former No. 1 overall pick, Alex Smith, but became the full-time starter midway through his second season and promptly led San Francisco to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly two decades.
Kaepernick led the 49ers back to the NFC Championship the following year, his best overall season. He started all 16 games in the regular season, posting a 12-4 record and passing for 3,197 yards and 21 touchdowns against just eight interceptions, also adding an additional 524 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He again started all 16 games in 2014 and had another solid year but the team went 8-8 and missed the postseason.
Kaepernick was replaced as the starting quarterback in Week 9 of the 2015 season by Blaine Gabbert and soon after had season-ending shoulder surgery. He returned ahead of the 2016 season, which became one of the most talked-about seasons in history.
He began his protests in 2016
When the 2016 preseason began for the San Francisco 49ers, Blaine Gabbert was tapped to be the starter under new head coach Chip Kelly. But Gabbert wasn’t the quarterback to make headlines. In the team’s third preseason game, a matchup with the Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaepernick was noticed refusing to stand for the national anthem, which had gone relatively unnoticed ahead of the first two games. It became one of the most divisive topics in NFL history but Kaepernick remained firm that he would not stop doing it no matter what it cost him.
As the controversy continued, there was still football to be played and Colin Kaepernick replaced Gabbert as the starter in San Francisco in Week 6. He started the final 11 games of the year, a stretch in which the Niners went 1-10. He actually had a solid statistical year but it was overshadowed by his protests. One has to wonder how things would have played out that year had he been a member of the Denver Broncos.
The Denver Broncos tried to trade for Colin Kaepernick in 2016 but he wouldn’t take a pay cut
Following the dreadful 2-14 campaign, the 49ers fired Chip Kelly and brought in Kyle Shanahan as the new head coach, the fourth head coach in the Bay in four seasons. Shanahan had run the highest-scoring offense in the NFL the season prior as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, helping them to the Super Bowl before taking the head job in San Francisco. He had plans to run that same offense, an offense that didn’t really suit Colin Kaepernick.
But had John Elway gotten his way, Kaepernick wouldn’t have even been around for the Chip Kelly “era” or even been in a position to leave the 49ers when Shanahan was hired in 2017, as the two-time Super Bowl champion wanted to bring him to Denver ahead of the 2016 season.
According to ESPN, Elway met with Kaepernick on two separate occasions in early 2016 and was willing to strike up a deal to bring him in. But there was just one problem. The Broncos wanted him to cut his guaranteed salary from $11.9 million to $7 million, something Colin Kaepernick apparently wasn’t willing to do. Elway, who testified in the collusion case, was asked his thoughts on bringing Kap to the Broncos in 2018 when Denver was in need of a backup, and the former Super Bowl MVP said that he had his chance two years earlier.
“You know what, and I said this a while ago: Colin had his chance to be here. We offered him a contract. He didn’t take it. As I said in my deposition … he’s had his chance to be here. He passed it.”John Elway on Colin Kaepernick
The trade obviously never happened and the Broncos wound up taking Paxton Lynch in the 2016 draft. It’s interesting to wonder if Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 season would have gone down any differently had the trade taken place. Would he still have started his protests? Would he still be in the NFL today? Chalk it up to yet another “what if” story in sports.