The Las Vegans Raiders made the NFL’s biggest news of the past few weeks — no small feat because the league is a three-ring circus of news — when they worked out Colin Kaepernick last week.
The decision to see what’s left in Kaepernick’s tank was wise from a strictly football perspective because the Raiders aren’t exactly loaded at backup quarterback, which would be Kaepernick’s role on any team that signs him.
And having an experienced backup capable of some success is important for a team with playoff aspirations which the Raiders have.
The problem with the Kaepernick flirtation is that isn’t the only move the Raiders need to be thinking about right now. And it is much more complex than a strictly football move.
The Raiders in the next couple of days are about to come into $19.75 million in the form of salary cap relief as a result of their designated post-June 1 releases of defensive lineman Carl Nassib and linebacker Cory Littleton, which were both let go in mid March.
That big cap bounty will spring the Raiders from the bottom 5 in salary cap space to the top 3 in salary cap space, giving them approximately $24.2 to work with.
Now they can go shopping if they wish.
They can sign Kaepernick to a typical backup QB deal for one year at $4-$5 million if he’s really eager to get back in the league.
It all works out for everybody.
Except it’s not quite so simple.
The Raiders, you see, are an NFL team and that means they must manage tons of stuff beyond football.
First there’s that pesky salary structure and how it makes players feel on the current roster.
Right now, today, the Raiders have perhaps the NFL’s best tight end in Darren Waller. He’s under contract but he’s not super happy with the deal he signed in 2019.
So some extension talks have been under way, per Waller.
“My agent is working on that,” Waller said in the latest Ross Tucker Football Podcast. “I understand it, but I know if I focus on it too much, it could take away from my job and learning a new system and just continuing to try to elevate and take care of my body in the right way. I try to focus on those things and let my agent handle that. When decisions need to be made, decisions need to be made.”
Waller is obviously in line for a big raise from his deal that will pay $6.8 million for 2022 and $7 million for ’23. George Kittle, for example, is the league’s highest paid tight end making an average of $15 million per season.
Waller’s annual average of $7.5 million per year on his current deal ranks him the 16th highest paid tight end.
The Raiders also have to consider signing slot receiver Hunter Renfrow to an extension because he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal.
Renfrow last season caught 103 passes for 1,038 yards with 9 TDs.
Renfrow and Waller are easily quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite targets. Carr made it clear during his contract talks that he’d be willing to take less so the team could reward guys like Renfrow, Waller, and tight end Foster Moreau, who’s also in the final year of his rookie contract.
Making those players a priority would make them and Carr happy and they’re clearly priorities over Kaepernick.
One other thing about Kaepernick as a priority:
Signing him is not just about adding any other backup caliber quarterback. It’s about adding a player that many members of the media and some on the roster will prop up because of his activism and what he represents to them.
So if Carr has two or three poor games, demands for a quarterback switch to Kaepernick will inevitably come from the same pundits who demanded he get a work out. Most NFL coaches will tell you that can lead to distractions and even division.
So the Raiders working out Kaepernick is one thing. But signing him requires a very secure and confident starting quarterback willing to overcome the possibility of a quarterback controversy.
And it also seemingly requires the Raiders to have the rest of their house — including deals for Waller, Moreau and Renfrow — in order so everyone understands the priorities.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero