The next few months may prove to be the most important in the history of the Green Bay Packers. Yes, hiring a new coach to lead during Aaron Rodger’s third act will be an essential component to sustaining the team’s place as a perennial contender. However, the more important acquisition for the long-term health of the franchise, and the public perception of the National Football League, would be signing Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick has proven success quarterbacking in the NFL and could become the best back-up in the league if joining the Packers. His experience as a starter and success in the playoffs (4–2 record), along with his demonstrated leadership off the field, are assets that any team truly dedicated to winning cannot overlook. In 2017, Aaron Rodgers notably said: “I think he should be on a roster right now.”
Teams are likely avoiding Kaepernick because his activism has received a great deal of attention and would present a team with numerous public relations issues. While such considerations should be part of the equation, I believe your entire formula is wrong if it doesn’t lead you to meet with and ultimately try to sign one of the best available law-abiding free agents in the league. If winning consistently and winning championships are the most important factors in the team’s personnel decisions — as I believe Mark Murphy demonstrated by firing Mike McCarthy during the season — then acquiring Kaepernick should be a top priority.
Of all the teams in the league, the Packers are insulated from public relations issues like few others. Its unique ownership structure means there’s no singular person (or his or her business interests) for the fans or other owners to vilify and boycott. Based in a smaller market means it may be easier to control the narrative in the media. And even if some of the fanbase revolts, the hundreds of thousands of people on the season ticket waiting list essentially guarantees continued sellouts.
For the positives: bringing Kaepernick aboard — and vocally backing his right to be politically active and supporting his causes — could help counteract some people’s negative perceptions of Wisconsin as a culturally backward state. That could help improve standing with African American fans (or potential fans) inside and outside of the state, as well as with other free agent players who may not currently even consider living in Wisconsin. His Packers jersey would also likely become a best-seller nationally.
Most teams in the league could secure a competitive advantage by signing Kaepernick, but the Packers have the unique opportunity to redefine their place in American culture. The Packers have a winning tradition (with championship seasons for nearly every generation of fans) and contemporary relevance (with one of the best players in Rodgers), but it doesn’t have cache as a forward-thinking, innovative franchise. Signing Kaepernick could immediately demonstrate that the Packers are not just a team that can win a title, but an institution that can lead a sport and a society into the future.