Quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick dueled in Super Bowl XLVII, a game that represented the pinnacle of their respective careers. Four and a half years later, an injury to Flacco’s back has created a potential opportunity for the two to be teammates.
With Flacco sidelined for at least a week of training camp because of a disk problem, the Ravens have had discussions about signing Kaepernick, who has attracted little interest around the NFL since he parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers in March.
“He and I have been talking throughout the summer, a number of times,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Kaepernick after Thursday’s first full-squad practice of training camp. “We’ve had some great conversations on the phone. It’s really been a pleasure to talk to him and get to know him. I like history and politics and stuff, too, and we’ve had some debates. It’s been fun. He’s a great guy. He’s a guy right now that’s being talked about and we’ll just see what happens with that. I think it will all be speculation right now but I think he’s a really good football player. As I said at the owners meetings, I do believe he’ll be playing in the National Football League this year.”
The Ravens are optimistic that Flacco, who told team officials about his back soreness after reporting to the facility Wednesday, will return to action relatively soon. Still, they need another healthy quarterback to more fluidly conduct training camp practices. With Ryan Mallett and Dustin Vaughan as their only two healthy signal callers, the Ravens had offensive assistant Matt Weiss stand in at quarterback during one of the running drills Thursday.
The Ravens are unlikely to bring in Kaepernick for a short period of time just to provide another camp arm until Flacco is ready to return. However, if team officials believe he is a better backup option and long-term insurance policy for Flacco, such a move makes much more sense.
“I wouldn’t rule it out at all,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a really good football player.”
The connections between the Ravens and Kaepernick are obvious. Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, coached Kaepernick with the 49ers and has been one of the quarterback’s most vocal supporters. Ravens senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman was Kaepernick’s offensive coordinator in San Francisco.
Harbaugh and a few other Ravens got to know Kaepernick a bit when the 49ers and Ravens had joint practices at the Under Armour Performance Center in 2014.
Just a few years ago, Kaepernick was considered one of the most dynamic young talents in the NFL, a reality the Ravens experienced firsthand in Super Bowl XLVII, when he passed for 302 yards, rushed for 62 and nearly led the 49ers to a remarkable comeback. But his performance fell off sharply in 2015 and he became one of the most polarizing athletes in the country last year when he began declining to stand for the pregame national anthem.
Kaepernick focused particularly on the spate of police-involved deaths of unarmed black citizens, including Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Since becoming a free agent, Kaepernick has gotten just one workout, with the Seattle Seahawks.
That has led many around the league to conclude that he is being blackballed for his social activism. Others have pointed to Kaepernick’s struggles on the field with the 49ers going 3-16 with him as a starter the past two seasons.
Kaepernick has said that he would not continue his national anthem protest in 2017 if he is signed.
Harbaugh indicated that the Ravens are comfortable with Kaepernick as a person, but other factors will go into whether they sign the 29-year-old.
“It depends on Colin first of all — what he wants to do, what’s his passion, what’s his priority, what kind of shape is he in, is he ready to go, then our needs. We’ll just kind of see where it goes,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think it’s different for us than any other team. We’re definitely going to get another arm in here, but he’s not an arm obviously. He’s an accomplished football player. You always like having good football players.”
Safety Eric Weddle, one of the team’s foremost leaders, said the Ravens would welcome Kaepernick if the team’s top decision makers thought he’d improve the team.
“I don’t really care who they bring in or what they do. If it helps our team, bring them all in,” Weddle said. “Whether he’s the right guy, I don’t really know, I don’t really care. We’re just trying to be the best team, continue the camaraderie and continue to compete and push ourselves.”
Flacco’s absence made for an unusual dynamic on the first day of camp. Heading into his 10th season as starter, Flacco had never before not been out there when his teammates took the field for the first practice of the summer. In fact, several people around the Ravens couldn’t recall if Flacco had ever missed a training camp practice before.
Still, neither Harbaugh nor Ravens players seemed concerned about the quarterback’s absence.
“Joe’s going to be back,” Weddle said. “We’re not worried about how long he’s going to be out. He’ll be fine. He’s one of the toughest guys on the team and he’ll be leading us out whenever he wants to come back.”
Said running back Danny Woodhead: “Whoever is out there, we’re going to go out there and work as hard as we can, get the timing. Yeah, it would be great to have him out there, but I think it’s going to be OK. He’s a professional, he knows how to throw the football, he knows how to read defenses.”
Harbaugh said Flacco’s back, which was tweaked while the quarterback was working out, has been bothering him “for a week or two.” Flacco didn’t report it to team officials until “it flared up a little bit” Wednesday.
The Ravens sent him to take an MRI and consult with back specialist Dr. John Carbone.
“They are recommending about a week of rest. They say that should take care of it,” Harbaugh said. “I guess with the back, you can always say, ‘We’ll see.’ But all indications from the back specialist, Dr. Carbone, are that he should be fine in about a week. That’s what we’ll be hoping for and praying for.”
Harbaugh maintained that Flacco’s health is not a long-term concern, but that won’t prevent the Ravens from adding more depth at the quarterback position.
“We’ll be ready for everything. It’s not just Joe, it’s every single position. You want to build as much insurance in your roster as you possibly can at every spot, quarterback no less,” Harbaugh said. “But everything looks fine with Joe. I’m not a doctor and I don’t think anybody knows for sure what could happen. Anybody could get hurt out here at any time. But taking the precaution, I think Joe with a week of rest here is not going to hurt our offense. It might help our offense in terms of developing some other guys. I’d rather go that route than go the other route.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.