Kaepernick deal could close NFL's kneeling chapter

A sports agent says the NFL could have paid dearly to "not continue with this issue."

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By Dennis Romero

A legal settlement Friday between the NFL and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during pregame national anthem ceremonies in 2016 as a protest against systematic racism, could speak volumes, experts said.

The undisclosed settlement ends a grievance filed by Kaepernick and former teammate Eric Reid that claimed NFL teams colluded to blacklist them. The resolution could end an ugly chapter for the league, which had been rocked by presidential meddling, boycotts and lower television ratings in recent seasons.

"If you ask fans the No. 1 reason they didn't watch or attend games, the top reason was because of the kneeling controversy," said sports agent Leigh Steinberg of Newport Beach, California. "This year the ratings came back up because there was no kneeling controversy. Part of the settlement is to keep that momentum going and not continue with this issue."

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Still, the NFL drew bad publicity in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, when Rihanna and Cardi B rejected offers to perform during halftime, reportedly because of solidarity with Kaepernick.

Los Angeles activist Najee Ali of the group Project Islamic Hope led a two-season boycott of local NFL teams over the kneeling controversy, but he said Friday he'll return to attending and watching Rams games now that the case is settled.

"Mission accomplished," he said.

The settlement could close the chapter on the kneeling controversy, but it also leaves open the question of whether NFL teams colluded to keep Kaepernick from a paycheck. Reid has continued to play.

"The NFL did not want to see this case go to trial," Atlantic staff writer and longtime sports journalist Jemele Hill tweeted. "They were going to lose. All this would have been is another mountain of bad publicity."

Steinberg, who's also a lawyer, said the NFL does not shy away from legal battles.

"The NFL isn't in the business of settling," he said.

The league could have settled for millions of dollars if Kaepernick's probable salary for two seasons out of the game was used as a gauge. Steinberg said the going rate for a starting NFL quarterback is about $20 million a season.

Journalist Mike Freeman of the Bleacher Report tweeted that his NFL sources said Kaepernick's payout could have been even larger — in the $60 million to $80 million range.

"The fact they settled probably implies there was collusion and a large financial settlement," Steinberg said.