The collusion case against the N.F.L. brought by the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been shrouded in mystery. Dozens of league executives and owners have been questioned, but their depositions remain confidential.
But John Elway, the general manager of the Denver Broncos, gave a rare glimpse into the thinking of at least one executive who knows why his team has not signed Kaepernick, who became a free agent in March 2017.
Elway told a reporter from NFL Network that he did not sign Kaepernick because the Broncos had offered the quarterback a contract once and he turned the team down.
“Colin had his chance here,” Elway said. “We offered him a contract. He didn’t take it. So, as I said in my deposition, I don’t know if I’ll be legally able to say this, but he’s had his chance to be here. He passed it.”
Elway’s comments come as an N.F.L.-appointed arbitrator weighs a motion by the N.F.L. to throw out the grievance brought by Kaepernick, who accused the N.F.L. of shunning him because he protested during the national anthem, sparking protests across the league.
The N.F.L. is betting that Burbank will say no, and dismiss the case. But if Burbank ruled that Kaepernick’s lawyers had indeed gathered sufficient evidence for the case to proceed, then a full hearing, in a trial-like setting, would follow.
Elway’s comments could affect that ruling. Burbank may look askance at Elway’s comments because the executive was prohibited from speaking publicly about them while the case is going on.
More curiously, Elway did not include that he had offered Kaepernick a contract in advance of the 2016 season. The timing is relevant because Kaepernick had not yet begun protesting during the national anthem at that time, and he was set to receive $12 million from the 49ers. Kaepernick said no to Elway because in the potential trade he would have had to take a pay cut to join the Broncos.
Elway’s reasoning that he did not sign Kaepernick when he became a free agent the following year also seems to fall apart in light of the fact that Denver had no trouble signing Brock Osweiler to a minimum salary deal after he had snubbed Denver to sign a lucrative free agent deal with the Houston Texans in 2016. Kaepernick would potentially have accepted similar terms to Osweiler in order to get back onto an N.F.L. roster.
Elway did not say explicitly that he shunned Kaepernick because he protested during the anthem. But the reasons he gave for not offering him a free-agent contract could convince Burbank that, combined with other depositions and documents, are enough for the case to go forward.
A ruling is expected in the next couple of weeks.