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Colin Kaepernick grievance: NFL in state of ‘agitation’ as 10 teams, other figures targeted

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

If the Colin Kaepernick grievance hadn’t made the NFL uncomfortable before this week, the level of angst has apparently risen acutely in recent days.

An NFL source familiar with discovery requests made this week told Yahoo Sports that “agitation” over the Kaepernick grievance is already building within the league’s legal department, which is building a defense hand-in-hand with heavy-hitting international law firm Covington & Burling.

The source said league lawyers fielded a slew of discovery requests this week, including depositions or records requests involving NFL owners, teams or coaches. Among them:

• Deposition and records requests for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is the subject of a discovery request from Colin Kaepernick’s legal team. (AP)

• Records requests for New York Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch.

• Records requests for the 49ers, Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

Each request was apparently made with specific dates in mind, most relating to a team’s communications with Kaepernick’s representatives following his entrance into free agency in March.

The inclusion of Mara and Tisch likely raised some eyebrows, considering the Giants have never pursued Kaepernick. A source familiar with the request involving the Giants said it is rooted in comments Mara made to Sports Illustrated in May, when he described fan emotions and potential backlash when it came to potentially employing Kaepernick.

This round of requests also isn’t expected to be the last. A league source told Yahoo Sports that more could be expected in the coming weeks – with the focus landing in some unexpected places. The source said that communications with or about President Donald Trump could become a bigger focus, and that it is possible that communications between Jones and Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter could become a part of the grievance discovery.

Colin Kaepernick, speaking with Seattle’s Doug Baldwin in 2016, has filed a grievance against the NFL for allegedly blackballing him from the league. (Getty Images)

Schnatter made some unexpected remarks ripping the NFL’s leadership in the national anthem controversy this week. That has brought more focus to his relationship with Jones, a major Papa John’s stakeholder, and what role the Cowboys’ owner may have had in the statements. Jones has been one of the league’s staunchest critics of national anthem protests this season.

Another interesting public-relations wrinkle is the league’s use of Covington & Burling against the grievance. That Covington & Burling is fighting for the league is no surprise as the NFL has a decades-long relationship with the firm. But it’s notable that one of the partners at Covington & Burling is former Attorney General Eric Holder, a staunch civil-rights supporter in former President Barack Obama’s administration.

This is the same Holder who tweeted a photo of Martin Luther King on a knee to President Trump on Sept. 24, with the caption: “Taking a knee is not without precedent Mr. President. Those who dared to protest have helped bring positive change.”

At the least, the focus on Trump and his politics in regard to the anthem protests – not to mention his relationship with NFL owners – could prove to be an interesting, if not awkward, dynamic for Holder and his firm.

It remains to be seen how quickly the NFL responds to the discovery requests, but the league’s collective-bargaining agreement calls for “expedited” discovery in such a grievance case. A source said the expectation for documents to be exchanged could be a matter of weeks, with the depositions likely to be executed inside of two months.