The Baltimore Ravens’ top executives have spoken to current and former NFL players, including star Ray Lewis, and both fans and sponsors as they continue to mull whether to sign polarizing free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Speaking alongside NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at a fan forum before the Ravens’ open practice Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, team officials acknowledged the team has had direct discussions with Kaepnerick, but they still haven’t made a decision whether they will sign him or not.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti urged fans to keep reaching out to the team to express their opinions about the prospects of adding Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who became a lightning rod for controversy last season when he declined to stand for the national anthem to protest inequality.
“I hope we do what is best for the team and balance that with what is best for our fans,” Bisciotti said in response to a question from a fan about how signing Kaepernick could ‘damage your brand.’ “Your opinions matter to us. … We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right tact. So pray for us.”
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The Ravens have been inundated with phone calls at their Owings Mills, Maryland, headquarters since Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters following the team’s first full-squad workout on Thursday that the team was considering signing Kaepernick to help a currently shaky quarterback situation.
Starter Joe Flacco remains sidelined with a back issue and while Harbaugh has expressed confidence that the 10-year starter will only miss about a week, he’s acknowledged the unpredictability of back injuries. Veteran backup Ryan Mallett has struggled mightily in early training camp practices. The Ravens only other two quarterbacks are Dustin Vaughan, who is in his fourth organization in four years, and David Olson, who had most-recently played in a lower-level arena league.
The Ravens not only are talking to Kaepernick, but they’re also considering bringing in former Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III for a workout.
“We do want to win games, and I’m not sure right now that he is going to help us do that,” Bisciotti said of Kaepernick. “We’re monitoring Joe, we’ve talked to Joe about it. We’re monitoring Mallett, we’re keeping our door open.”
The performance of Kaepernick, who dueled with Flacco in the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory after the 2012 season, has declined since he emerged as one of the NFL’s biggest stars while playing under John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, in San Francisco. He’s just 3-16 as a starter over the past two seasons.
Since becoming a free agent, he’s had just one workout, with the Seattle Seahawks. Former and current players, along with many media personalities, have opined that Kaepernick is being blackballed for his social activism. Kaepernick has been especially vocal about the number of police-involved deaths of unarmed black citizens, including Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Speaking to reporters after the fan forum, Goodell said that Kaepernick is not being blackballed.
“The clubs are making those individual evaluations,” Goodell said. “They make the determination whether they think he can help them win, and that’s true with any player. Obviously, everyone’s aware of the fact of his protests last year and that’s something that individual clubs either weigh or not weigh. But I think they all want to get better and they make the decision on whether somebody can help them win.”
Asked if it would look bad if Kaepernick did not play in the NFL this year, Goodell said, “Again, those are football decisions. We supported Colin and the fact that he has a right to demonstrate, and that was the position we took last year, and it’s a position we still take today. We encourage our players to be respectful. So that’s something each club will weigh and make a decision.”
That’s exactly what the Ravens are in the process of doing. Harbaugh, who got to know the free-agent quarterback through his brother, has spoken to Kaepernick several times this offseason.
“We’ve had discussions directly with Colin,” team president Dick Cass said, acknowledging that the organization has already heard from a lot of fans. “He’s committed to football. We’ve learned that he very much wants to play. We still have a process that we’re going through. We really have not made a decision yet one way or the other.”
Bisciotti said the organization is “very sensitive” to the opinion of fans, but that won completely dictate the Ravens’ decision. Ultimately, both Bisciotti and Cass said it’s a football decision, made by the team’s braintrust which also includes general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta and Harbaugh.
“It’s been discussed between Dick and and John, and we’ve talked a lot with our current players and a lot of our former players,” Bisciotti said. “I talked to Ray Lewis this morning. I know Ozzie had a long conversation with Ben Watson. … It’s not racial lines. It’s not existing players versus former players. I care about the fan base, but I have to absorb the opinions of the players that have been there.”
Bisciotti said that Kaepernick has “made some assurances through his intermediaries that there will be no protesting.”
“I know we’re going to upset some people, and I know that we’re going to make some people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did,” Bisciotti said. “Silent protesting is something that we’ve all embraced. I don’t like the way he did it personally. I like how he went from sitting to kneeling. I’m Catholic, and we’ve spent a lot of time kneeling.”