Among Colin Kaepernick’s targets in grievance vs. NFL: President Donald Trump

A digital needle in a haystack of communication is what Colin Kaepernick will be looking for when – or if – the former quarterback’s legal team gets the discovery it has requested in a grievance filed against the NFL. And as that potential discovery comes into focus, the legal shovels will seek to dig into a high-profile roster of targets.

Among them: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. President Donald Trump. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens.

That list would just be the start, according to those familiar with the discovery plan.

“It will be a vast group, both broad and specific,” one source told Yahoo Sports of planned targets for discovery.

Ultimately, Kaepernick’s legal team will seek to digitally pick through the inner-workings of why some teams entertained and then passed on the quarterback after he entered free agency in March. Specifically, what was the dialogue taking place between ownership, executives and the coaching staff? Did any communication take place between the franchises considering Kaepernick and the league office? Did any communication occur between owners at a time that it became public that teams like Seattle and Baltimore were considering him as an option?

In the broader picture, Kaepernick’s legal team will seek any communications owners began having about him starting in September 2016, when his protests began drawing widespread attention and condemnation. Of particular interest will be the periods of time surrounding league meetings or owner-related gatherings, the months since Kaepernick hit free agency, or other high-profile moments, such as when Kaepernick landed on the cover of Time magazine in October 2016.

See Kaepernick supporters protest outside NFL headquarters: 

12 PHOTOS
Protesters gather outside NFL meetings in New York City
See Gallery
Protesters gather outside NFL meetings in New York City
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: Activist Glenn Cantave joins others in a coalition of advocacy groups who were 'taking a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups demonstrate outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups demonstrate outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on October 17, 2017 in New York City. Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Oct 17, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Black Lives Matter New York president Hawk Newsome speaks to media outside of the Conrad Hotel where the NFL owners meeting is set to take place. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2017; New York, NY, USA; K Sloan sings the national anthem for protestors and media outside of the Conrad Hotel where the NFL owners meeting is set to take place. Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
Glenn Cantave poses after a rally with other demonstrators outside the location of the annual NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Demonstrators rally outside the NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Demonstrators rally outside the location of the annual NFL owners meeting in New York City, NY, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Here’s what is clear from Kaepernick’s grievance – and also from speaking to members of his legal team – Trump’s involvement with owners and some of his public statements could become a useful tool in arguments.

One pivotal moment that will draw interest in discovery occurred long before Trump’s railing on anthem protests during this season. Instead, it was March 20, when the president engaged in some apparently unscripted bragging to a crowd in Louisville, Kentucky, about his influence in keeping NFL teams from signing Kaepernick.

 “It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” the president said. “Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”

Of particular interest about that moment is that it came one day after Kraft had joined Trump on Air Force One for a flight between West Palm Beach, Florida, and Washington. Kaepernick’s camp hopes to prove that Trump has been one of the pivotal unifying forces of collusion in the NFL, either through his relationship with Kraft and Jones, or through his influence using his public platform.

The most significant goal of forensically combing through the NFL’s private communications would be to find “cross-boundary” communications about the quarterback, according to sources close to Kaepernick. More specifically …

  • Owners or executives from at least two different teams communicating about Kaepernick’s protests; his impact on the league’s brand; his free agency; or anything else relating to his previous or future job status in the league.
  • Owners or executives from at least one team and the NFL’s league office communicating about Kaepernick’s protests; his impact on the league’s brand; his free agency; or anything else relating to his previous or future job status in the league.
  • Owners or the NFL’s league office communicating with President Trump – or even indicating communications with Trump – about anything relating to Kaepernick’s job status.

There will be significant hurdles involving any such communications (if they indeed exist). Kaepernick’s legal team will have to convince an arbitrator that the grievance is valid and such a significant request for discovery is valid in the first place. As it stands, Kaepernick’s attorneys have already sent notice to the NFL and all 32 teams to preserve all communications for potential use in future discovery. Proof of the NFL or teams destroying any forensic evidence after receiving such a notification could be grounds for a grievance defeat for the league.

27 PHOTOS
Colin Kaepernick through his career
See Gallery
Colin Kaepernick through his career
LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 02: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #10 of the Nevada Reno Wolf Pack celebrates with fans after defeating the UNLV Rebels 44-26 at Sam Boyd Stadium October 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
30 December 2008: Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick (10) in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl held at Bronco Stadium in Boise, ID. (Photo by Steve Conner/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 29: Colin Kaepernick #10 #10 of the North Team scrambles out of the pocket while taking on the South Team during the fourth quarter of the Under Armour Senior Bowl on January 29, 2011 at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Under Armour)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: Colin Kaepernick # 7 of the San Francisco 49ers defends as his team plays the New Orleans Saints during their pre season game at Louisiana Superdome on August 12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 1: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers throws the ball from the pocket against the San Diego Chargers during their preseason NFL Game on September 1, 2011 at Qualcomm Stadium in San DIego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers throws before a game against the Seattle Seahawks on October 18, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won 13-6. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 09: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs down the field in between plays during their game against the Miami Dolphins at Candlestick Park on December 9, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after running in a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers hugs a teammate as they celebrate in the locker room after the 49ers defeat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers answers questions on his tattoos during Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, January 29, 2013, in New Orleans, Louisiana.. (George Bridges/MCT via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up against the Baltimore Ravens during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Professional football player/presenter Colin Kaepernick attends the Third Annual Hall of Game Awards hosted by Cartoon Network at Barker Hangar on February 9, 2013 in Santa Monica, California. 23270_002_SK_0224.JPG (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 08: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs onto the field for their preseason NFL game against the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park on August 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 25: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles away from the rush of Fred Evans #90 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter at Candlestick Park on August 25, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 26: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before a game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on September 26, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball in the first half against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 20, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts during a NFL game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 20, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers walks off the field after losing to the Seattle Seahawks 23-17 during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 02: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines against the St. Louis Rams during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium on November 2, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 29: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to facing the Denver Broncos during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 29, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
20 September 2015: San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) [16242] in action during a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to playing the Baltimore Ravens in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers fires the team up on the field prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the 49ers 31-24. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 24: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 1: Eric Reid #35, Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eli Harold #58 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 25-23. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Even with the preservation of potential information, discovery actually coming to fruition is hardly a guarantee. The neutral system arbitrator, expected to be University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank, will hear arguments from Kaepernick’s legal team and rule on whether the evidence is strong enough to compel the league to turn over communications. If Burbank rules against Kaepernick’s efforts for discovery, the grievance would essentially be crushed on the spot, leaving Kaepernick to file a federal lawsuit alleging collective-bargaining agreement violations. Some in the NFL already believe this is the real intent of the grievance and monster discovery request in the first place – to ask for so much that the grievance is shot down and ultimately forced into a courtroom.

If the system arbitrator allows Kaepernick such a wide net for discovery, his legal team will still have a second significant challenge of proving that different teams or elements of the NFL’s executive office worked together to either limit or eliminate Kaepernick’s employment opportunities.

Legally, proving Trump was the unifying agent of collusion could be a stretch. But all it may take is one pivotal needle lying in a massive communication haystack. And that’s what Kaepernick’s legal team will be fighting to find.

More from Yahoo Sports:
A’s catcher Maxwell arrested, charged with assault
Tim Brown: The adjustment that ended a Dodger’s torment
Best guess at this year’s first College Football Playoff rankings
Texans stage mass protest after owner’s ‘inmates’ comments

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.