Look, I’m not that interested in whether Eric Reid kneels during the national anthem for the Carolina Panthers.
I’m very interested in whether he can keep up with Julio Jones on a deep route or make an open-field tackle on Alvin Kamara.
Bravo to the Panthers for ignoring the noise and making a progressive hire by signing Reid — who became known as the first person to kneel alongside quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem in 2016 — to a one-year contract Tuesday.
It undoubtedly helps that David Tepper, Carolina’s new owner, has basically given his players permission to protest social injustice however they choose. Tepper recently told CNBC that it was “dead wrong” to accuse NFL players of being unpatriotic if they chose to kneel during the national anthem.
I don’t think Reid would have been signed in the Jerry Richardson era. But I also don’t think the Panthers are making a sweeping statement here about constitutional rights or police brutality.
Instead, I think the Panthers saw what happened to Colin Jones and Rashaan Gaulden in the defensive backfield Sunday, when Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 352 yards. Then they decided that a string of completed 20-yard passes — not the American criminal justice system — was unsustainable. Bengals receivers too often were getting open by 5 yards, even once A.J. Green left the field with an injury.
So the sweeping statement the Panthers made was simply this: “We don’t have enough good safeties.”
Given that, Reid made sense in a lot of ways. He’s 26 years old, a former first-round draft pick and a starter for the past five years for the San Francisco 49ers. It also isn’t going to hurt the Panthers around the league in free agency — and may even be a recruiting tool for some — when other NFL players realize that Carolina is willing to sign outspoken players such as Torrey Smith and Reid and let them be themselves.
But make no mistake — Eric Reid is not Ronnie Lott. Nowhere close. People often refer to Reid as a “Pro Bowl safety.” Technically, that’s true — Reid made the Pro Bowl once. As a rookie. In 2013.
That was before a knee injury in 2017. That was before Reid missed training camp and the first month of the 2018 season. And it should be noted that Reid does have some history with concussions (former Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert once gave him one in a brutal collision).
Yes, Reid will be better than Jones in pass coverage. But it’s still a very open question as to how good he will actually be for Carolina. For the past four years, Reid was a decent player on a bunch of bad San Francisco teams (the 49ers’ combined record from 2014-17 was 21-43).
As for those Panthers fans who have vowed to sell their PSLs or stop supporting the team because of this signing, calm down. Reid has previously said he’s not going to kneel this season, although I believe he will find other ways to make a difference in the Charlotte community.
Where will this all end up?
It’s not a slam dunk it will work, like Reid’s supporters say.
It’s not the end of the world, like Reid’s detractors say.
As with most things in life, it’s somewhere in the middle. But for the Panthers, it’s also a chance worth taking.