Prior to the 2018 NFL season, Bleacher Report released its NFL1000 rankings of the best players in each position based on how they performed during the 2017 season. The strong safety position was among the positions that the sports news and analysis site discussed. A strong safety is generally a very versatile player — someone who focuses on stopping the run but also has great coverage skills.
The position of strong safety has evolved over the years and can now include a “hybrid-linebacker” element in which the safety will stay close to the second level of defense to stuff the run, blitz or cover tight ends and wide receivers’ zone defenses. Unfortunately, quality safeties are hard to come by in today’s NFL, and multiple teams, such as the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, have glaring holes for the position.
Enter Eric Reid, the 10th best strong safety in the NFL, according to the Bleacher Report ranking.
Reid was the San Francisco 49ers’ first-round draft pick prior to the 2013 season. He was elected to the Pro Bowl as one of the league’s best free safeties — the position he was drafted to play — following a successful campaign in which he accumulated 77 combined tackles, 11 passes defended and four interceptions.
Following three more successful seasons in San Francisco, Reid would move to a hybrid linebacker-strong safety role before locking up the starting strong safety job. He would finish the 2017 season with 67 tackles, five passes defended and two interceptions, despite missing three games during the season. Ultimately, it wasn’t Reid’s impressive play on the field during the game that would lead to increased media attention, but his off-field battle with the NFL toward the beginning of the 2018 season.
Reid was ranked as the No. 10 overall free safety by Bleacher Report’s NFL scouts, earning a grade of 78 out of 100. Nine mere points were what separated him from the highest-ranked safety in the league, Harrison Smith.
The NFL ranked Reid the second most valuable free agent safety prior to the free agency period’s beginning. Yet, curiously, Reid remains unsigned to this day.
His absence from NFL rosters clearly is not just performance-related.
The reason Reid remains unsigned, whether owners and general managers will admit it or not, is because he knelt during the national anthem alongside Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The controversial act, which has been continually attacked by President Donald Trump and his supporters, took the NFL by storm, with the president calling for owners to get players who kneel off the field and fired. Because of the belief that he was barred from the league for this purpose, Reid filed a collusion grievance under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement on May 2.
Proving collusion in a major sports league will be incredibly difficult, as, according to Article 17, Section 6 of the NFL Players Association Collective Bargaining Agreement, there needs to be clear evidence that at least two member franchises engaged in secret talks to bar the player from the league. It will be an uphill climb for both Reid and Kaepernick, but it may not be impossible if the proof is out there.
Despite the controversy surrounding the incredibly talented Reid, the struggling NFL teams need to consider signing him, as the free agent can be an immediate difference-maker for any team.
Three weeks into the 2018 NFL season, the Packers have shown a glaring weakness in the strong safety position, as Kentrell Brice, a career special teamer and alternate, is now the starter for the team. Brice has been burned in the secondary week after week and has shown a poor availability to track the ball when it is thrown. This led to huge touchdowns in Green Bay’s games against the Minnesota Vikings — which set up the game-tying two-point conversion — and the Washington Redskins just mere seconds into the game.
Brice also whiffed on a tackle later in the matchup against the Redskins, and rolled onto teammate Muhammad Wilkerson’s ankle, forcing the defensive end to be carted off the field with a probable season-ending injury.
Brice was not listed among the top 50 players at his position by Bleacher Report, yet he is still in a starting role, while the No. 10-ranked Reid is stuck away from the game he excels at.
Kaepernick’s situation differs from Brice’s in that Kaepernick was a star whose performance declined and opted out of his own contract. Reid, however, simply became a free agent and has gone unsigned ever since. Collusion cannot be proven just because an excellent player has not been signed — as with Barry Bonds in the 2008 season, who, after filing a grievance, did not win his case because there was no definitive evidence of collusion.
However, it can be implied that the NFL owners are scared of the backlash from signing a player like Reid, especially given that they essentially admitted so at an October 2017 meeting, citing the president and the kneeling situation as the “elephant in the room.”
In April, there were reports that Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown repeatedly asked Reid in the player’s sole interview with a team whether he would stop kneeling. Reid allegedly wasn’t sure.
Reid left the interview without a deal.
While this isn’t evidence for collusion and wouldn’t win the case for Reid alone, it proves that the NFL owners are intimidated by the practice of protesting during the national anthem. Many owners are not against the practice itself, but the possible punishments that Trump can pit on them. The teams that need help should listen to their fan bases, however, and at least try out Reid. He will be an immediate contributor to a safety-needy team.
After all, there are apparantly only nine players better than him at his position, and 32 teams.
Editor’s Note: Reid was signed by the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 27.
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