The Carolina Panthers signed safety Eric Reid today. Usually free agent, fourth-week signings don’t generate much interest. The unfurling of events is pretty commonplace in the NFL: a starter (in this case Da’Norris Searcy) goes down with an injury, and an available talent (Reid) is signed as a band-aid. This signing is significantly more notable for two reasons: 1) the player signed is a top-tier talent at his position and 2) the player is tied to an issue not directly related to football.
Eric Reid can play football really well. That isn’t breaking news; he has been a starter in 69 of the 70 games he has played. He’s a former Pro Bowl Player. In fact, according to Pro Football Reference Eric Reid is one of only 12 safeties with at least 10 interceptions, 30 passes defended and 260 tackles from 2013-2017. And until today, he was the only one on that list that wasn’t employed by an NFL team.
The signing bolsters a burgeoning secondary. 2nd round pick Donte Jackson has three interceptions in three games. Jackson’s fellow cornerback, James Bradberry, has steadily improved since he was drafted two seasons ago. The back end of the defensive back unit, however, was a bit more problematic. Searcy is a journeyman strong safety. And while free safety Mike Adams is talented, at 37 there are injury and speed concerns. Reid helps alleviate any potential problems with both safety positions; he played both last season as a part of the San Francisco 49ers (including a hybrid linebacker role). In totality, the signing adds depth, talent, and flexibility to a weakness on a defense that has surrendered the 22nd most net yards per pass attempt in the league (6.9 yards).
The signing makes a ton of sense on the field, but there’s a reason such a talented player was available in the first place. While Colin Kaepernick has garnered more attention for his protest of police brutality against minority communities, Reid has been alongside the former 49ers quarterback in his civil disobedience, philanthropy, and collusion case against the NFL. Similarly to Kaepernick, Reid’s outspoken stance for equality in policing made him unworthy of a spot in the NFL despite his talent. His signing marks an important event for the NFL. If Reid can be signed and play relatively free of controversy, it may pave the way for Kaepernick’s signing by defeating the narrative that he’d be a distraction.
The signing serves as a milestone for the Carolina Panthers, specifically. While you can enter Bank of America stadium without passing the Jerry Richardson statue, it’s hard to forget that it’s there if you’re a Panthers fan—particularly an African American one. Change of ownership of the team may have occurred months ago, but it feels like the David Tepper era has finally commenced in earnest.