RIVERDALE, Ga. (AP) — Colin Kaepernick threw passes for about 40 minutes on a high school field, then signed autographs for hundreds of fans who gathered in an end zone to watch his NFL workout that was suddenly moved Saturday, the latest strange twist in the saga of the exiled quarterback.
Eight team representatives made it to the new location, including Philadelphia Eagles vice president of football operations Andrew Berry. It appeared the Jets, Redskins and Chiefs also had scouts in attendance.
They stood along the sideline, jotting into their notepads as Kaepernick tossed passes to four free-agent receivers.
“Our biggest thing with everything today was to make sure we had transparency in what went on,” Kaepernick said afterward. ‘We weren’t getting that elsewhere, so we came out here.”
It was a surreal scene - a quarterback who led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl, who should be in the prime of his career at age 32, staging a workout at Charles Drew High School south of Atlanta.
Kaepernick, who worked out in a tank top and shorts, has clearly kept himself in good shape during his near three-year layoff. His passes had zip on them, though he was a bit off target on his deep throws. It was not the sort of session that would likely sway a team one way or the other.
That didn’t appear to be the point.
Kaepernick has insisted all along that everyone knows he is good enough to play in the NFL. He claims to have been blackballed over his kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, a divisive gesture that has been debated all the way to the White House.
“I’ve been ready for three years,” Kaepernick said. “I’ve been denied for three years. We all know why. I came out here today and showed it in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide. We’re waiting for the 32 owners, the 32 teams, (Commissioner) Roger Goodell to stop running, to stop running from the truth, to stop running from the people.”
Kaepernick did not take questions from at least 50 media members who scrambled to get to Riverdale to cover his workout, after initially assembling about 60 miles away, north of Atlanta in Flowery Branch.
Kaepernick was initially scheduled to work out for 25 NFL teams at the Atlanta Falcons’ training complex, but his representatives announced the change less than an hour before the start of the session - and after many of the team representatives had already arrived.
Kaepernick’s team said they called the last-minute audible to let journalists watch and videotape the workout, adding the shift was prompted “because of recent decisions made by the NFL.” The league had declared the extraordinary workout would be closed to the media.
“From the outset, Mr. Kaepernick requested a legitimate process and from the outset the NFL league office has not provided one,” his representatives said in a statement.
Once he got on the field, Kaepernick threw passes to receivers Bruce Ellington, Brice Butler, Jordan Veasy and Ari Werts.
Former 49ers teammate Eric Reid, who joined Kaepernick in his kneeling protest and a collusion lawsuit against the league, watched the session from a bench on the sideline.
Reid, who is now a safety for the Carolina Panthers, left the workout after about 20 minutes to get back to Charlotte. His team, in an interesting twist, hosts a game against the Falcons on Sunday.
“I think there could be a positive outcome,” Veasy said. “At the end of the day, any progress is good progress.”
But Kaepernick’s agent, Jeff Nalley, didn’t sound as hopeful.
“If teams want to see him, they will ask to work him out,” he said. “No team asked for this workout.”
Nalley said he feared all along that there was “an ulterior motive” behind the NFL’s offer to stage an unprecedented workout for one player - and offer that was made on Tuesday, with Kaepernick given two hours to accept or reject it.
In a statement, the NFL said it was “disappointed that Colin did not appear for his workout.” The league referenced recent negotiations with Kaepernick’s representatives over the workout and citing, among others, media availability and a liability waiver.
“Colin’s decision has no effect on his status in the league. He remains an unrestricted free agent eligible to sign with any club,” the NFL said.
Kaepernick, who hasn’t played since the 2016 season with the 49ers helped start a wave of protests with his decision to kneel during the national anthem before games.
The NFL in February settled a collusion grievance filed by Kaepernick and Reid.
A number of NFL scouts had already gone inside the Falcons’ indoor training facility when word came Kaepernick’s session was being shifted. Most didn’t bother going to the new site - the high school stadium just south of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Nalley acknowledged that he had already made arrangements for a different site if talks with the NFL broke down.
“You’ve always got to have a backup plan,” he said.
Dozens of media had been set up in a fenced-off parking next to the Falcons’ facility. Former NFL head coaches Hue Jackson and Joe Philbin had been set to run the drills.
Kaepernick’s representatives said the NFL “demanded” as a precondition for this workout that he sign an “unusual liability waiver.” The reps said Kaepernick asked that media and an independent film crew be allowed to attend and videotape the original workout, and that the NFL denied the request.
“Based on the prior conduct by the NFL league office, Mr. Kaepernick simply asks for a transparent and open process which is why a new location has been selected for today,” the representatives said.
Kaepernick worked out under the lights as the sun set behind the trees at one end of the stadium, an American flag flapping in a gentle breeze and encroaching darkness.
At the other end of the field, a rapidly growing group of fans cheered Kaepernick from behind a chain link fence, their numbers growing as word spread that the quarterback was working out.
By the end of the session, their numbers had ballooned to several hundred. Police arrived to help control the crowds, and a barbecue truck set up in the parking lot to provide an impromptu dinner option. Kaepernick worked down the entire length of the fence, signing autographs for nearly as long as he worked out.
One of the fans held up a sign.
“I’m With Kaep.”
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.
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