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It appears Colin Kaepernick brought NFL to its knees

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 2/16/2019 By Scott Ostler

a man wearing a red shirt: FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stands in the bench area during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the New York Jets in Santa Clara, Calif. An arbitrator is sending Kaepernick's grievance with the NFL to trial, denying the league's request to throw out the quarterback's claims that owners conspired to keep him out of the league because of his protests of social injustice. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) © Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stands in the bench area during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the New York Jets in Santa Clara, Calif. An arbitrator is sending Kaepernick's grievance with the NFL to trial, denying the league's request to throw out the quarterback's claims that owners conspired to keep him out of the league because of his protests of social injustice. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Did Colin Kaepernick bring the NFL to its knees?

That’s at least a strong possibility, since the NFL agreed to settle with the former 49ers quarterback and ex-San Francisco safety Eric Reid in their collusion lawsuit.

A confidentiality agreement is keeping details to a minimum. The NFL probably isn’t going to leak any info, and Kaepernick and his camp are notoriously un-leaky. But putting together some of the pieces:

If the league thought it could beat the collusion lawsuit, it seems highly unlikely it would have settled. The league would have loved to go to court and win this one, especially in light of recent negative stories, such as running back Kareem Hunt (caught on video kicking a woman in a hotel hallway) signing with the Browns, and beloved broadcaster Bob Costas claiming he was booted off the Super Bowl telecast for being too honest about football’s concussion problem.

The NFL has tons of money and truckloads of lawyers. Kaepernick is an unemployed quarterback. This lawsuit was David vs. Goliath. From the outside, it looks like Goliath blinked.

Another major incentive for the league to win the suit, rather than settle: A majority of the league’s players — and virtually all of the protesters — are black. The NFL, had it won the suit, could have proved that it did not blackball Kaepernick for the crime of crusading for social and racial justice.

Early on in the lawsuit, I was hearing from sources that if the case ever went to trial, there were pieces of evidence that would be “very embarrassing” to the league. I have no details. The reference could be to something as simple as careless emails exchanged between team owners.

The big question now: Will Kaepernick, a dedicated social activist and philanthropist (he has donated at least $1 million to a variety of social-justice causes), simply continue his activism, or will he attempt an NFL comeback? And if he wants to come back, will he get a chance to do so?

Kaepernick is 31, well-rested and reportedly still in superb shape. I believe he would absolutely jump at the chance to get back into the league. (I found reports that he demanded $20 million to consider playing in either of the two new pro football start-up leagues hard to believe.)

Does the secret agreement between Kaepernick/Reid and the NFL include a guarantee that Kaepernick will get a chance to earn an NFL job? That could be tricky. League commissioner Roger Goodell can’t order a team, or all teams, to offer Kaepernick a contract.

So will any teams jump in and offer him a job, or a tryout?

It’s one thing to give Hunt a second chance. That’s standard procedure in the NFL. But the widespread opposition to Kaepernick and the protest movement he set off is a financial threat to the league and team owners.

Left to their own devices, most teams would pass on Kaepernick, either out of distaste (on the part of the owner and/or coach) for his politics, or out of fear of widespread fan anger. Or both.

The curtain came down Friday on Act 1 of the drama, but the play isn’t over.

Scott Ostler is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: sostler@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @scottostler

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