In May, Eric Reid followed his former San Francisco 49ers teammate Colin Kaepernick in filing a grievance against the NFL, alleging that the league and/or some number of its 32 franchises had colluded to keep him out of the league. At that point, as Jeremy Stahl reported in Slate, the former All-Pro safety had received interest from just one team, the Cincinnati Bengals. “During that meeting, the team’s owner Mike Brown reportedly told Reid he planned to prohibit his players from kneeling during the national anthem and asked the player for his response,” Stahl wrote. Reid declined to offer a definitive response and the Bengals didn’t sign him.
On Thursday, the Carolina Panthers signed the 26-year-old free agent to a one-year contract. The Panthers sent the player, the league, and its fans a much different message.
“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,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said in a story posted on the team’s website. “He is a physical safety with good ball skills and play-making ability.”
Earlier this week, Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith—who played with Reid on the 49ers—argued there was no reason for the team not to sign him.
“Honestly, with our injuries I hope he ends up here,” Smith said. “I know how he is as a talent. If this is something where they come and talk to me about him I’ll be glad to talk about him as a player, as a person. He’s one of the best men I’ve been around, so I hope that is something that can happen for us because I know that with the injuries we have he’s a guy that can help this team.”
Reid has been Kaepernick’s most visible supporter since the quarterback began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and call for racial justice. After Kaepernick was exiled from the league in 2017, Reid continued to kneel on the sidelines. Reid has also been extremely outspoken about the NFL’s efforts to end the protest movement, telling Stahl in November that the league was trying to buy off players with money that had been earmarked for breast cancer awareness and military service initiatives.
The Panthers are owned by David Tepper, who once called Donald Trump “the father of lies” and who stated earlier this month that calling protesting players unpatriotic is “the biggest pile of bull-dingy ever.”
Tepper bought the team from Jerry Richardson earlier this year. Richardson sold the team after Sports Illustrated reported that “at least four former Panthers employees have received ‘significant’ monetary settlements due to inappropriate workplace comments and conduct by owner Jerry Richardson, including sexually suggestive language and behavior, and on at least one occasion directing a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout.”
Last month, an arbitrator ruled Kaepernick’s grievance could go forward to a full hearing. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported on Thursday that, “[p]er a source with knowledge of the situation, the contract with the Panthers does not impact Reid’s collusion grievance against the NFL. Specifically, Reid did not agree to dismiss or settle his collusion grievance as part of his contract in Carolina.”