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Eric Reid Is Still a Free Agent. He Shouldn’t Be

The former 49er believes he’s still unsigned because of his decision to demonstrate during the national anthem. If so, teams across the league are making an enormous mistake

One of the biggest stories in free agency so far is ex-Packer Morgan Burnett signing with the Steelers. Why? Because it breaks the befuddling logjam at the safety position, clearing the way for 49ers free agent Eric Reid to be signed, thus shining the most accurate light to date on the consequences of demonstrating during the national anthem.

Reid, you recall, took a knee during the anthem all last season, including after members of the Players Coalition, led by Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin, chose to end their demonstrations during the anthem after the league’s nearly $90 million initiative to social-activism endeavors. Reid, who broke away from the Players Coalition, recently asserted that his unemployment more than a week into the 2018 league year is owner backlash for his protests.

San Francisco 49ers strong safety Eric Reid (35) during an NFL regular season football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, Calif. The 49ers won, 44-33. (Ric Tapia via AP)

San Francisco 49ers strong safety Eric Reid (35) during an NFL regular season football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, Calif. The 49ers won, 44-33. (Ric Tapia via AP)

With Burnett signed days after Tyrann Mathieu joined the Texans and the safety market now in position to move, we’ll soon find out if Reid is right. If he remains unsigned, this would be the first instance of an irrefutably high-level starting-caliber player being out of the league due to exercising his right to protest. Some of you just shouted: “First instance? What about Colin Kaepernick?!” From a pure football standpoint, the comparison between Reid and Kaepernick is apples and oranges. Reid is one of the game’s premier young safeties. The majority of the NFL’s true “football people” (coaches and select front office talent evaluators) believe Kaepernick has fundamental flaws that prevent him from being a quality starting quarterback—and they don’t care if Twitter and factions of the general public think that’s BS. To them, Kaepernick is of backup-caliber, and many believe his unconventional style of play is not conducive to coming off the bench. And many of those who believe it is conducive to coming off the bench still don’t think Kaepernick is appealing enough to justify the throngs of attention and disruption that would follow him.

Reid, on the other hand, is worth the disruption—especially considering that, as a safety, he comes with only a snippet of the attention a quarterback (Kaepernick) would draw. Signing Reid would bring a rush of media and backlash from some sectors for maybe two or three days. Few, if any, non-sports entities would cover the signing. Reid would draw attention if he continues to protest in 2018, but no more than he did in 2017 when the Niners, from afar, appeared to survive just fine.

Reid, unlike Kaepernick, does not have fundamental flaws in his game. He’s experienced as a free safety, box safety, matchup safety, slot corner and linebacker. He’s a hitter who can also cover, both man and zone. He’s shown instinctive playmaking prowess. In no sane world is Eric Reid a backup. The Niners, who run a classic Cover-3 based scheme and have affordable depth at safety and linebacker, don’t have a significant need for him, but plenty of other teams do.

Versatile safeties like Reid are more important now than ever, which is why this year’s soft free-agent market at the position is so perplexing. More and more teams are putting three safeties on the field, adding flexibility to their nickel and dime sub-packages and gaining answers for offenses that run the ball out of three-receiver sets. Plus, a dynamic safety can really impact the way you use the rest of your secondary, which is why, come January, we could look back on Pittsburgh’s Burnett signing as one of the bigger moves of 2018.

Reid is a younger, better Burnett. If he is getting punished by ownership for his protest, the team that musters the humility, courage and common sense to sign him anyway will get a tremendous player.

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