Eric Reid Is Worth Considering, 'Controversy' or Not

After watching Brian Gutekunst and company strike out at cornerback in the first wave of free agency, it’s easy to focus on their needs at the position. And rightly so. Other than Kevin King, it’s an assortment of UDFAs and Quinten Rollins at corner in Green Bay.

But despite assurances that the Packers are “flushed (sic) with options” at the position, I’m convinced safety should also be considered a need. Morgan Burnett has traded green and gold for black and gold, Josh Jones is coming off an inconsistent rookie season, and despite their promise and special teams performance, neither Kentrell Brice nor Marwin Evans has shown much to indicate they can be more than bit players on defense. (Brice is serving coffee to his doubters, for whatever that’s worth.)

Even assuming each of the young safeties takes a step forward, the Packers could use help at the position. For that reason, I think the Packers should strongly consider signing former San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid.

A versatile, high-level performer

Reid, despite a Pro Bowl resume, remains unsigned more than a week into free agency. A 2013 first round pick, Reid’s well-rounded game had him lining up at both safety spots, slot corner, and even as a hybrid linebacker last season. Though he may not have ultimately lived up to his first-round pick status, Reid has generally been reliable and has performed at a very high level for the 49ers.

In five years in the Bay Area, Reid intercepted ten passes, knocked down 36 more, and recovered three fumbles. He was Pro Football Focus’s fourth rated free agent among slot cover men and also ranked fourth in run stop percentage. In 120 coverage snaps, he allowed a passer rating of 84.4, surrendering 12 catches and one touchdown over 13 games.

Reid is also only 26 and doesn’t turn 27 until December, making him almost exactly three years younger than Morgan Burnett. Adding Burnett to the back end of the Packers’ defense would give them another player to fill the hybrid role Burnett performed so capably over the past two seasons.

It would also give them another player to put behind Jones if Mike Pettine prefers to play the 2017 second round pick close to the line. Further, it would spare the Packers from banking their entire plan for their safety group on the development of two third-year undrafted free agents.

How is Reid still available?

So why hasn’t Reid been signed? Why would such a versatile, capable player find himself out of a job despite a frenzy of spending early in the free agency period? There are at least three reasons; two are at least somewhat legitimate, while the third is ridiculous.

First, Reid hasn’t exactly been the picture of health over the past two seasons. He missed nine games in 2016 and 2017, and at 6-1 and 213 pounds, there could be some concerns over whether or not he can stand up to the pounding that comes with playing close to the line.

Second, teams may just be waiting out a sluggish safety market. Morgan Burnett indicated he’d like to sign a deal valued at $8.5 million or more. He signed for a fraction of that price, and he’s hardly an exception.

Other signings have either been comparable or worse; no one on the top end of the safety market is garnering big money. And if you don’t have to pay big for a player, why would you? Savvy GMs may be biding their time and waiting for Reid’s price to fall to bargain levels.

Finally, there is probably some lingering stigma over Reid’s role in protests during the National Anthem over the past two seasons. Reid was an outspoken supporter of Colin Kaepernick from day one and given the response to the protests among fans and around the league, it’s worth wondering if that’s played something of a role in his ongoing unemployment. For Reid’s part, there’s no question that it has.

Packers should look past contrived controversy

But that shouldn’t scare the Packers. Reid is free to hold whatever views he’d like, and as long as those views don’t affect his work on the field (and they haven’t), the Packers (or any other team, for that matter) should feel excited they have the opportunity to add a very solid player to their team.

If that doesn’t ease your mind, consider the words of Ron Wolf, who wrote this of his feelings toward how players and other personnel acted while members of the Packers:

If I hired you today, I wouldn’t tell you to dress a certain way. I wouldn’t tell you to shave your mustache or trim your hair. I wouldn’t tell you to take out your earring. None of that. I would tell you that I expect you to be productive and to uphold your responsibilities. Immediately I have put the emphasis on the right area. I haven’t allowed peripheral issues and rules to become dominant. I have focused on what’s important to me and the organization and I have begun your initiation into the Packer Way.

Whatever you think of Reid’s protesting, you can’t deny that it’s without a doubt a peripheral issue. If Reid lives up to his side of the bargain, whether he stands, kneels, or dances during the National Anthem shouldn’t be a consideration at all. That was good enough for Ron Wolf, and with a need for help in the secondary, it should be good enough for Brian Gutekunst and the Packers, too.