Kaepernick’s grievance more than a headache for the Broncos, NFL

May 12, 2018; Englewood, Denver, USA; Denver Broncos general manger John Elway looks on during rookie minicamp at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colin Kaepernick arrived at Denver International Airport on Tuesday morning, setting off speculation that the erstwhile San Francisco 49ers quarterback and center of controversy would perhaps be in town to consider joining the Denver Broncos?

As it turns out, Kaepernick was in town to be present as John Elway was deposed by lawyers in the former QB’s grievance against the NFL, alleging that the league is conspiring to keep him out. Something that is surprising on it’s face but really shouldn’t be.

In the spring of 2016, the Broncos attempted to acquire Kaepernick in a trade. By April 2016, it was clear the team wanted the 49ers QB to take what amounted to less than half his salary to come to Denver. Kaepernick — probably understandably — was resistant to such a deal and the talks broke off without a resolution in mid-April 2016. Kaepernick began kneeling/sitting during the national anthem to protest police violence against minorities in August a full five months later.

That was the extent of the Broncos direct involvement with Kaepernick. The fact that Elway was deposed in Kaepernick’s grievance against the NFL is curious, considering the Broncos’ executive Vice President didn’t have any (as far as we know) interaction with Kaepernick afterward, unlike Houston Texans owner Bob McNair and his clumsy comments about National Anthem protests after the 2016 season.

So the question remains: if the events between the Broncos and Kaepernick occurred well before the controversy began, why is Elway being deposed? There are several plausible theories, and none of them look particularly good for the Broncos.

One can speculate that Elway was being deposed because the Broncos showed substantial interest in Kaepernick in the offseason of 2016 after Peyton Manning retired, and the Broncos didn’t return to Kaepernick when he was eminently available in the 2017 offseason. What changed? Was it Elway hoping against hope that Paxton Lynch would emerge as the Broncos’ starting QB? Was it simply that Elway didn’t want to revisit Kaepernick after he nixed a trade that would have resulted in a substantial pay cut? Or was it a combination of controversy, opportunity, money and more?

More likely, from Kaepernick’s perspective, if the Broncos wanted him at that massive pay cut but didn’t want him at the veteran minimum a year later, it would lead one to wonder what is going on — if that indeed is Kaepernick’s way of thinking.

All of those plausible reasons combine to paint a very reasonable picture of Elway and the Broncos as they searched for a quarterback in 2016-17 and why Kaepernick would depose Elway. Most of that occurred prior to Kaepernick’s first protest.

There’s one additional problem, and that was an unforced error that may have come back to haunt the Broncos’ chief football executive. It came in the form of a letter of recommendation written by Elway to the Senate Judiciary Committee in March of 2017. It was in support of Colorado judge Neil Gorsuch; nominated by President Donald Trump to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Why is that a problem? A letter of recommendation in itself is not an issue. Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration in 2017. You are free to express whatever political view you want; support who you want as a United States citizen. Hell, you can even protest anyone you want. The issue was not the content of the letter, but the official Broncos logo at the top. While — after it was made public — the team disputed that it was official Broncos letterhead, it was hard to get around that giant horse head at the top of the page. It sure looked as if it was official letterhead. This made it seem like this was the official position of the Denver Broncos, not John Elway, in support of Gorsuch and Trump.

It’s entirely possible that Elway was deposed by Kaepernick’s team, not only because the Broncos were the last team to show any significant interest in the QB, but because Elway sent that letter with that giant Broncos symbol at the top. It may not make any difference in the long run to Kaepernick’s collusion grievance, but it was a headache the Broncos probably didn’t need. The perception that the Broncos themselves were aligned with the President who was attacking Kaepernick — and NFL players as a whole — in 2017 didn’t help.

This isn’t something that is going to haunt the Broncos themselves. This deposition is a blip on Elway’s radar and likely won’t be the reason that Kaepernick wins or loses his grievance against the League.

One has to ask the question, however: If the Broncos had a strong owner presiding over the team right now, would Elway’s letter-gaffe have occured? There is a giant vacuum at the top of Dove Valley and it makes you wonder what else could happen without a guiding light to lead the way in the form of ownership.

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