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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The NFL is Blackballing Eric Reid, too

Eric Reid had a standout season in 2019 yet he remains unsigned.
Eric Reid had a standout season in 2019 yet he remains unsigned.
Image: Getty

On March 29, ESPN ranked its top 15 remaining NFL free agents. Like nearly all NFL free-agent lists, it failed to include NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick.

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But it did list Kap’s teammate, friend, and partner-in-justice, safety Eric Reid. He was ranked as the seventh-best available free agent. Since that time, the six free agents ahead of him have been signed, moving Reid to the top of the list. In September, CBS’s rankings (which also excluded Kaepernick) has Reid as the fourth-best available free agent, and he has since moved up to No. 2 after Antonio Brown.

“My agents have been in communications with teams daily, but there have been no developments,” said Reid when Deadspin reached out to him to gauge the level of contact he’s had with NFL teams.

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Why no developments? Doesn’t the NFL care about Black lives in a season that has seen a national and athletic uprising against police terror?

A look at the top unsigned NFL free agents every September will generally show three categories:

  1. Still unsigned for behavioral and off-field reasons (Brown, Earl Thomas)
  2. Just released by teams last week, and should be re-signed soon
  3. Worthy, but declining non-QBs on the wrong side of 30 (Clay Matthews III; Delanie Walker)

In 2020, there is a fourth category: Those players fighting hardest for racial justice (Kaepernick, Reid, and possible premature retirement of Michael Bennett).

Like Kaepernick, Reid is being blackballed for wanting killer cops to stop getting away with murder, amongst other similarly outrageous things.

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Let’s look at Reid from a football perspective, and even extend the Carolina Panthers a pass for releasing Reid mid-contract. Under rookie coach Matt Rhule, Reid was only one of several defensive vets Panthers decided to part ways with amidst a defensive rebuild that also included the discarding of veterans James Bradberry, Mario Addison, Gerald McCoy and Bruce Irvin. And that doesn’t include the greatest Panther of them all: Cam Newton.

Which teams can use an Eric Reid?

This week, Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon reviewed the best possible free agents for all 32 teams, and concluded Reid was the best possible pick-up and fit for three teams. Citing his age (he’s just 28), defensive versatility, and likely lower salary, Gagnon concludesFrankly, Eric Reid is a better fit for the Cowboys defense than Earl Thomas.”

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That is heavy praise. Others also agree that Reid would be a nice scheme fit” for the Cowboys.

With the Chargers losing star Derwin James to injury, and the Jets losing Jamal Adams to trade, Gagnon also sees Reid as the best possible addition and potential upgrade over those teams’ current replacements. Writing for Sports Illustrated, Seth Everett agrees saying Reid is a good fit with the Jets, adding that beyond his contributions on the field, he would also be “a strong veteran presence for the Jets to develop rookie Ashtyn Davis, taken in the third round.”

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Fansided’s Jair Lopez writes that Reid would be a “perfect” and “fantastic” safety addition for the Houston Texans.

Here’s what Lopez wrote:

“Reid played 99 percent of the snaps on the defense last season, despite dealing with a shoulder injury, sprained ankle and sprained MCL. It’s incredible to put into perspective that he still managed to break two single-season records with Carolina in the process.”

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Lopez is referring to Reid’s 130 tackles and four sacks, both Carolina records for any defensive back, and both done in his lone full season with the team. In fact, Reid’s 97 solo tackles tied for third in the entire NFL, and his 130 total tackles were second in the NFL amongst all defensive backs behind Cardinals Pro Bowler Budda Baker.

And Reid achieved those numbers while battling injuries.

After hounding the Texans and quarterback Deshaun Watson with a sack, tackle for a loss, and a late-game fumble recovery, Reid left the stadium in a walking boot after going from play-to-play with a pronounced limp.

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“It would have been easy for him not to go back into the game but he gutted it out,” then-Panthers coach Ron Rivera said post-game. “That’s the kind of young man he is.”

Reid has been the ultimate versatile team player. When the 49ers were hit with injuries at linebacker in 2017, Reid agreed to switch positions for the betterment of the team. While Reid was gutting it out through injuries to make 99 percent of defensive snaps for the Panthers last season, it also contributed to a down year in pass coverage from 2018. Reid’s only other subpar year in pass coverage came in 2016, which Reid followed up with a career-best year in 2017.

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With a healthy, youthful, in-shape Reid, he is primed to bounce back again.

But like Kap’s on-field critics, Reid’s critics are allergic to the word “collusion” and will cherry-pick any advanced stat out of context, and make it a permanent trait instead of an injury-impacted outlier. They will punish him for playing through injuries — a positive team attribute. They will omit that he was third in the NFL in solo tackles, as if tackling suddenly doesn’t matter in tackle football. They will pretend he is a declining 35-year-old, and not 28, and in the midst of his playing prime.

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There has been no greater champion of Reid than current Texans safety and brother Justin Reid who believes their constant brotherly communication on-and-off the field would result in one of the “most dominant tandems that would enter the NFL.”

Brotherly bias notwithstanding, Justin makes a convincing case for a brotherhood of safeties.

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“The communication and chemistry we’d have together would be on another level, like nothing the NFL has ever seen,” says Justin Reid. “Talking ball all the time, I would go over to his house and eat dinner with his family and him and my nieces. We’d just be talking ball, about the game plan that’s happening that week. We’d be able to do all types of things that are out of the box because we would be so willing to put in so much extra time into it just because we would be hanging out all the time anyway.”

Adding Reid to a defensive scheme that already consists of his own brother should be a no-brainer for the Texans, but the Texans’ offseason trade of elite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins indicates that putting the best talent on the field is not a high priority for coach and GM Bill O’Brien.

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With six head coaches in his seven seasons, Eric Reid has never known organizational or schematic stability, and the prospect of Reid settling into one system for over a year should be an exciting proposition. Another obvious landing spot for Reid, one that can immediately provide such stability, is to reunite him with his old Panthers coach Ron Rivera with the Washington Football Team, which currently has one of the NFL’s worst-ranked secondaries.

Rivera’s effusive praise of Reid is not limited to the field, as he recently credited him with opening his eyes to the systemic racism Black people face in America every day.`

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“One of the things I told our players today is, I had a player in Carolina that made a tremendous impact on me, and that’s Eric Reid,”Rivera told local media via Zoom. “The biggest thing that happened there is I listened more so than I did anything else.”

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Like Kaepernick, Reid is being credited for enlightening folks like coach Rivera, while being denied an employment opportunity for that very enlightenment.

That’s almost as offensive as writing “Black Lives Matter” and “End Racism” in NFL end zones without practicing it amidst the 100 yards in between.

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Bleacher Report’s Gagnon says, “It’s odd he’s still on the market.”

Except it is not odd at all. Eric Reid is being blackballed for the very stance Rivera is praising him for, and for helping start a conversation the league has now acknowledged it should have been engaged in years ago.

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But this is likely not on coach Rivera. This is likely on pathetic Trump-loving, accused sexual-harasser Daniel Snyder, and the other 31 NFL owners still illegally practicing collusion.

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Reid is being punished. He is being colluded against just as he was colluded against as a free agent at the start of the 2018 season, before he filed a lawsuit claiming just that, even after one prospective team asked if he would kneel.

Reid is not only being punished for taking a knee, and speaking out on racial injustice. He is also likely being punished for being the single loudest voice against the corrupt NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement that has gutted disability benefits for retired players. In the NFL’s eyes, that might be a greater offense than taking his knee.

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So instead of justice, we get laughable performative gestures and empty meaningless statements by Commissioner Roger Goodell, that have been piled on a litany of previous bullshit statements.

The fact is, the very first step in showing you actually give a damn about justice for George Floyd or Breonna Taylor is to employ justice for Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid.

NFL owners are still colluding against Colin Kaepernick. Collusion is still a crime. My sportswriting will not be complicit in criminal activity.

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