Eric Reid has filed a collusion grievance against the NFL, alleging there is an organized agreement among NFL owners to keep him unemployed. The former 49ers safety has been unable to find any suitors on the free agent market.
Reid quite clearly believes he is being blackballed for his social activism. He was the first player to openly participate with teammate Colin Kaepernick in the national anthem protest and has been an outspoken advocate for social justice and equality issues. He is African-American.
Reid might be correct that there are NFL teams that want nothing to do with him because of his connections to Kaepernick and the divisive protest movement. Unfortunately for his case, there are too many other factors in play which can validate the NFL’s side of the collusion dispute. In fact, his own brother and his NFL Draft experience damages Reid’s case.
Justin Reid is also a safety and now a third-round pick of the Houston Texans. The younger Reid was widely projected as a top-50 overall talent coming out of Stanford. Many final mock draft projections (mine included) slotted him to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, but he fell to the third. He was not the only safety to fall in the draft.
Derwin James was the first true safety off the board. The Florida State standout fell all the way to the 17th overall pick. Just about every draft media pundit had James pegged as a top-10 overall talent. The prop bet for his draft slot was over/under 8.5 at the initial listing. He lasted to double that value, and the online books quickly raised that value to 10.5 when it was clear the NFL didn’t value his skills as much as the media or college fans.
Other free agent safeties have not seen the expected market for their services either. Kenny Vaccaro, another first-round pick in 2013, also remains unemployed. Pro Bowler Tyrann Mathieu, one of the best playmakers in the league when healthy, had to take a one-year, $7M prove-it deal with the Texans.
Just two free agent safeties signed for more than a total contract value of $10M. Kurt Coleman, who is not as good as Reid but is a perfectly capable veteran starter, pulled in an average of $5.4M per year over three years from the Saints. He joins Mathieu as the only safeties who inked deals for more than $5 million a year.
Reid earned just under $5.7M last year on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. If he’s been seeking what he made last year – or more – Reid doesn’t have much of an argument. The market simply is not there for players at his position. That’s not a collusion problem, it’s an indictment of how the NFL values safeties.
That doesn’t mean Reid’s social stances are not also part of the problem. It’s naïve to think it doesn’t matter when owners like the Texans’ Bob McNair continue to spout off against the flag protests and kneelers. Ironically, McNair is the man who is now Justin Reid’s employer. And while Justin is not Eric, it’s apparent within two minutes of interviewing Justin (which I did as part of the media throng at the Combine) that he’s a man with far more on his mind than just playing football. When McNair signed off on his Texans drafting Justin Reid, it made the perception of collusion against his brother cloudier.
It also eliminated another potential landing spot for Eric Reid. He’s extraordinarily unlikely to find any suitors now as teams bask in the afterglow of their draft classes and evaluate hungry, inexpensive young undrafted free agents.
Reid is proven better than all of them, at least for now. The relatively meager, seemingly below-market deal Mathieu got simply isn’t available at this point. It hasn’t been there this entire offseason. Reid might be toxic to many NFL owners and segments of every fanbase because of his leadership involvement in the protest, but if he’s trying to prove that is the reason why he’s not getting hired, he faces a seemingly impossible task in proving it’s the only reason.