Former San Francisco 49er safety Eric Reid is no longer unemployed. On Thursday, he signed a one-year contract worth up to $2 million with the Carolina Panthers. Reid had gained international exposure when he was among the first players to join quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of racial prejudice and police brutality. He is expected to immediately bolster a secondary hard hit by recent injuries. Reid’s landmark collusion grievance against the NFL will continue to move forward through the arbitration process.
The team characterized the signing as a football decision. “After we put (safety) Da’Norris Searcy on injured reserve, Ron (Rivera) and I discussed our options, and Eric was at the top of our list,” general manager Marty Hurney said in an online statement announcing the signing. “He is a physical safety with good ball skills and play-making ability.”
The LSU standout Reid was the 18th pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft by San Francisco. He became an instant contributor on a team fresh off a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss the previous season. The 26-year-old safety remained a stalwart presence on the defense for the following five years, winning All Rookie and All Pro honors while the 49ers stumbled through a downward spiral of losing seasons and poor coaching decisions. Questions about injuries and his much-publicized National Anthem protest left him unsigned when his contract expired after the 2017 season.
The Panthers sit at 2-1 in a three-way tie with Tampa Bay and New Orleans for first place in the competitive NFC South. Their defense is ranked 18th overall but has been hit hard with injuries in recent weeks. Reid will replace safety Da’Norris Searcy who was sent to the injured reserve list after suffering his second concussion in less than two months. The Panthers are led on offense by former MVP quarterback Cam Newton and jack-of-all trades receiver and running back Christian McCaffrey. The team has a bye this week and won’t play again until hosting the 1-2 New York Giants the following Sunday.
The Panthers are recovering from allegations of sexual and racial misconduct by former owner Jerry Richardson who was fined $2.75 million following a league investigation. Richardson finalized sale of the team this past May to hedge fund manager David Tepper. The pairing of such a forward-thinking owner with the socially-aware Reid could help owners and players find common ground on the contentious issues of protest and social justice.
In his grievance, Reid contends that the owners colluded against him because of his protest by kneeling during the National Anthem. The league owners contend he was a player with diminishing ability. They point out that Reid had suffered multiple concussions and knee injuries that had caused him to miss time on the field. The owners also claim there is a glut of safeties available on the market since less expensive talent can be found via the draft process. The case is not appearing in any federal court, but instead is being heard by an arbitrator as per the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL owners and players union.
It is uncertain if Reid will continue with his protest after signing with the Panthers. Only three players from the undefeated Miami Dolphins have chosen to do so this year. The official team photo of the signing shows Reid giving the closed-fist Black power salute, though, so the odds are good that the newest Panther is not backing down from his principles or protest.