The Panthers have one of the most progressive owners in the NFL and a big hole at safety. Could Carolina be the team to finally sign Eric Reid?
Da’Norris Searcy is set to be the latest Panthers starter to land on injured reserve. That leaves the organization with a really interesting decision on their hands. General manager Marty Hurney will almost certainly look for outside help at the position. Former 49ers safety, Eric Reid is unsigned due to his national anthem protests, but he also might be the most talented safety on the street.
Under Jerry Richardson’s leadership, the Panthers almost certainly would have avoided Reid. The former 49ers safety filed a collusion grievance in the offseason over his lack of interest from NFL teams. His position is that he is being punished for his activism and on-field protests during the national anthem. He’s the defensive side of the football’s version of Colin Kaepernick.
Carolina isn’t run by Richardson’s conservative hand any longer. David Tepper is now in charge in Charlotte. In sharp contrast to Richardson, he’s been very vocal in support of players who want to express their political feelings. At the very least, expect the Panthers to really consider bringing Reid into the mix.
If he doesn’t end up with the Panthers, it’s probably going to be an issue of scheme. Reid is a terrific player near the line of scrimmage, but the 49ers had significant concerns about his ability to hold up in coverage. They even played him at linebacker on occasion. Eric Washington’s defense has enough talent in the front seven, but they do need some help at the back-end. It’s still worth noting that he was playing at a high level late in 2017.
In the end, the Panthers might choose to target a safety who is a superior pass defender than Reid. That would be a defensible decision. On the other hand, Reid is the most talented safety on the free agent market. He might be talented enough to gamble on his fit with the current defensive personnel. Signing Reid would put a lot of pressure on Mike Adams to cover the deep third of the field, but it would make the Panthers even tougher against the run.
No matter what outside help the Panthers go for, expect Rashaan Gaulden to get the first chance to fill Searcy’s shoes. The team didn’t take him with the No. 85 pick in April’s draft to sit him on the bench all year-long. Specifically, the coaching staff really likes his versatility as a pass defender. In time, he might supplant Searcy in the starting lineup regardless of the veteran’s injury status.
Don’t be surprised if Reid gets a long look from the Panthers brass. They’re going to do their homework about his off the field issues if they believe he can help them on the field. This might be Reid’s best chance to make his way back into the NFL in 2018.