The Carolina Panthers’ decision to sign free agent safety Eric Reid to a one-year deal, announced on Thursday, was about football, according to general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera.
And it was also the right one.
Reid, 26, is a former first-round pick and starter for San Francisco from 2013-17.
He earned Pro Bowl and All-Rookie honors in his first season in the NFL, and has had 69 career starts with 10 interceptions, 36 passes defensed, 327 tackles and a sack.
And the Panthers needed safety help after putting starter Da’Norris Searcy on injured reserve last week.
The decision seemed so simple. It has for months. But for the Panthers and every other team with a need at safety — including the Atlanta Falcons — it clearly wasn’t.
And that’s because Reid joined former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest social injustice and police brutality.
That last part — the actual reason for the protest, repeated ad nauseam by players across the league — got twisted and politicized. The cacophony over the act itself drowned out the voices sharing the motivation for it.
It even went as high up as President Donald Trump, who infamously referred to NFL players who knelt in protest as “sons of bitches” in 2017.
That appeared to be the reason teams stayed away from Reid and Kaepernick — even when Reid said this spring that if he were to be signed he would discontinue his protest while still working in the community to fight social injustice.
Kaepernick opted out of his contract after the 2016 season, and remains unsigned. He filed a collusion grievance against league owners under the collective bargaining agreement, in which he argued that he was being punished for his protest.
Reid, a free agent this spring, filed a similar grievance in May (the proceedings of which will continue until further notice and don’t affect the Panthers) because he also went unsigned.
“I think we all know why he hasn’t received a call,” said Panthers receiver Torrey Smith, a longtime friend of Reid’s, as he laughed sarcastically on Tuesday afternoon. “I think you’d have to be foolish not to understand why he hasn’t received a call.”
It was cowardice. Fear of the noise signing either player would bring.
And the noise blanketed the caliber of player and person Reid is, too.
“Eric Reid is a Pro-Bowl caliber safety, 26 years old with a first-round pedigree,” Smith said. “And he’s one of the best men that I know.”
But do you know what can cut through the fear of that much noise in an NFL organization?
Hatred of losing.
Reid, who according to Hurney is in “pretty amazing shape,” helps the Panthers immediately, joining a defensive backfield that features third-year cornerback James Bradberry, rookie cornerback Donte Jackson and veteran safety Mike Adams.
The Panthers cut through all of the extraneous sludge that has glommed onto Reid by those who want to twist his message.
According to Hurney, he and Rivera focused on the player Reid is. They made a decision motivated purely by football.
“Eric has been a starting safety in the NFL and has played at a high level throughout his career,” Hurney said. “After we put Da’Norris Searcy on injured reserve, Ron (Rivera) and I discussed our options, and Eric was at the top of our list. He is a physical safety with good ball skills and play-making ability.”
A league source told the Observer that the two began discussing available safeties on Monday morning. With Reid the obvious option, Hurney made the call to Reid’s agent on Tuesday to begin contract discussions. They flew Reid in on Wednesday. Panthers owner David Tepper approved the decision that day, a source close to the process told the Observer.
The Panthers made the smart move for their football team. A business decision, approved by a new owner who has repeated that the No. 1 thing he cares about is winning.
The Panthers literally “stuck to sports.”
But it was the right move, too.