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Colin Kaepernick will have a seat at the table if players meet with league

Lawyer says quarterback has agreed to join group who has requested formal mediation session

While NFL players continue to protest during the national anthem and frustrated owners seek closure on the divisive issue, the man who ignited the leaguewide movement may play a central role in whatever happens next.

Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who first sat and then knelt in 2016 to shine a light on racial injustice, has agreed to join a group of players who have requested a formal mediation session with the league. Attorney Mark Geragos, who filed a grievance in October under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement alleging that owners have conspired to keep the still-unemployed signal-caller out of the league, said on Monday that Kaepernick has committed to attend the meeting, which the league has not yet agreed to, “if they do it … as proposed.”

San Francisco safety Eric Reid, the first player to kneel alongside Kaepernick during the 2016 season, has been among the driving forces behind the players’ efforts to engage management in their cause and is Kaepernick’s biggest supporter. Kaepernick repeatedly has been passed over by far less accomplished passers, and Reid believes his friend deserves both a job and a seat at the negotiating table as owners and players resume slogging through many topics in hopes of finding a path forward together.

If the league engages Reid’s group, a session would likely occur the week of Nov. 13. Many players have demonstrated peacefully for more than a year over issues critically important to African-American communities.

Criminal justice reform is at the top of the players’ to-do list. Reid also is determined to address Kaepernick’s inability to land a job despite the dearth of quarterback talent in a quarterback league. Geragos also could sit in during the mediation, which is not binding.

The intent of the process is to have a third party facilitate progress on the issues. At least in theory. Furthermore, under the terms of the mediation proposal, nothing that is said or done in the meeting could be used in other legal matters — such as Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the NFL.

“I would think I would be available” if Kaepernick asks him to participate, said Geragos, who has represented many high-profile clients, including Michael Jackson and rhythm and blues artist Chris Brown. “But to me, it’s a player-driven meeting. I don’t know if I want to mix apples with oranges, so to speak.”

Meanwhile, on a parallel track, Geragos is moving forward on behalf of Kaepernick against professional sports’ most powerful league.

Although Geragos declined to comment on the progress of Kaepernick’s grievance, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, several owners and other high-ranking league officials will be deposed, people familiar with the situation say. Cellphone records and emails pertaining to Kaepernick’s arbitration also will be reviewed.

Despite the controversy swirling around him for more than a year, Kaepernick remains focused on returning “to the playing field,” Geragos said. “Every day that goes by, the collusion case gets stronger and stronger. Even a passive fan of the NFL will tell you … it’s almost beyond any doubt that there’s collusive activity going on.”

Well, that’s still a matter of opinion. It’s clear, however, that there are several teams with shaky players at football’s most important position.

The Denver Broncos recently benched Trevor Siemian for Brock Osweiler, who has already failed with the Houston Texans. Osweiler was ineffective in Sunday’s 51-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Texans supposedly discussed signing Kaepernick after learning that impressive rookie starter Deshaun Watson would be sidelined the remainder of the season with a knee injury. But many clubs, including the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens, supposedly have discussed signing Kaepernick. They say they’ve strongly considered adding a player who has made 58 career starts, including two in NFC championship games and one in the Super Bowl, and has the fifth-best touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio in league history. And yet, Kaepernick is still very much unemployed.

That’s part of Geragos’ point.

“From a lawyer standpoint, the fact that he hasn’t been [signed] just proves the collusive activity even stronger,” Geragos said. “The idea that the Texans or Broncos or … I could go on and on and on. How many teams could use him immediately?”

On a radio show, Geragos recently suggested that Kaepernick would be signed within “10 days.” That was seven days ago. Asked Monday about his previous comments on the subject, Geragos declined to say whether teams are engaged in serious contract talks with his client.

“I don’t want to divulge that, because I’m not his agent,” Geragos said. “But it’s my belief that that time period made perfect sense.”

And with depositions likely to begin later this month, would Kaepernick drop the grievance if he were signed?

“Depends,” Geragos said. “Everything is negotiable. He wants to play. I can’t be any stronger than that. But every day that goes by, they [owners] diminish his value.”

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.