(If you are unable to see this photo gallery on your mobile device click here)
SANTA CLARA — Eric Reid should have options this winter.
The key word in that sentence is should.
Playing in the last year of his contract, the soon-to-be 26-year-old safety is inching closer to his first free agency experience.
Reid wants to say with the San Francisco 49ers — Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday that he’d like Reid to be part of his team’s long-term plan — but should the two parties not agree on a new contract in the coming weeks, Reid will hit the open market in March.
That should be an exciting time for Reid. Normally, a young, smart, versatile defensive back who is a leader in the locker room and who boasts a proven track record of success would have several suitors and sign a big-money contract with plenty of guaranteed cash that will set him and his family up for life.
But Reid is not just any other defensive back — he’s at the vanguard of a movement that that has engulfed the NFL narrative and thrown the nation into a frenzy of bombast — so there’s a real threat that Reid will find the same fate as his former teammate Colin Kaepernick, who has been blackballed from the NFL.
“I’m aware of it. I know it’s a possibility. [But] I knew what I signed up for when I started doing this,” Reid said Wednesday, a few days after arguably his best game of the season.
Make no mistake, while Reid hasn’t found the same notoriety as his former teammate, but you can’t tell Kaepernick’s story without including Reid.
When Kaepernick and former Green Beret Nate Boyer came up with the idea of taking a knee, instead of sitting, during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality against minorities, Reid was sitting at the table with them.
When Kaepernick first started taking a knee on Sept. 1, 2016, before a preseason game against the Chargers, Reid did the same.
And now that Kaepernick is no longer part of the NFL, Reid stands in as the thoughtful, reasoned voice for the movement the former 49ers’ quarterback started.
Reid is fully aware that his activism could cost him his job — that he could be “Kaepernicked” this upcoming offseason.
It doesn’t matter that Reid is a safety who is capable of effectively playing at the line of scrimmage while also having the instincts and skillset to play over-the-top in coverage — something that a lot of teams could use in this era of football — his role in the anthem protests could be the first and last thing teams look at on his resume.
Still, the protests continue, undeterred.
“I think it’s the right thing to do, when I look back on my life, when I look back on my career, I will feel confident that I did the right thing,” Reid said. “So if I’m not in the league next year, there will be a process I will go through… My focus is going to be to finish this season. If I enter free agency and I’m not on a team next year, I’ll weigh all my options, legally, what have you.”
Reid has noted what Kaepernick has done in the wake of his ostracization, but circumstances will dictate how he handles his situation — should it arise. Kaepernick filed a suit in October claiming NFL owners colluded to keep him out of the league. That case is pending and could have serious ramifications on Reid’s free agency search. (Not to mention on the league as a whole.)
But it cannot be stated enough how real the threat of being blackballed is for Reid. At the very least, should he become a free agent, his market will be constrained by some teams who are not interested in signing a vocal leader of Kaepernick’s movement, either because of politics or a possible public relations fallout, meaning he’s likely to make less money than had he not protested.
Think about it: Reid might be an excellent player who could make any team better, but if Kaepernick cannot land a job playing the most important position in professional sports, while Josh Johnson, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Nassib, and Joe Webb are signed to active rosters in-season, there’s no reason to believe a safety (no matter how talented he might be) is above the fray.
Perhaps it’s all moot — perhaps Reid and the Niners will be able to come to terms on a new deal soon.
Maybe another team that has no problem with their players protesting during the anthem will step up and sign Reid to the deal he deserves. (Seattle is a team that comes to mind.)
But Reid should have options this offseason, and the notion that he might not, all because he exercised his first amendment rights in an effort to promote “equality for everybody” should bring everyone pause.
And the fact that he is standing strong in his beliefs, despite that real threat, should tell you everything you need to know about Reid and his convictions.