The 49ers misused Eric Reid at the most critical and crucial time in his career. In my opinion, that is the reason why it’s so hard for him to find a job right now. Protesting during the anthem aside, Reid was moved around at a time he needed to play at one position for a full season to display his best abilities and the San Francisco 49ers robbed him of that! Before I elaborate on the above statement, let’s go over a few things of note from Reid’s career thus far. AVAILABILITY: Eric Reid came out of college having concussion issues and that seemed like it was going to be an ongoing issue early in his NFL career. Although stats only tell part of the story, I want to focus on a few numbers in particular. Let’s start with GAMES PLAYED
|2017||San Francisco 49ers||13||67||53||14||0.0||—||4||2||0||0||0.0||0|
|2016||San Francisco 49ers||10||62||48||14||0.0||—||5||1||0||13||13.0||13|
|2015||San Francisco 49ers||16||71||60||11||1.0||—||7||—||—||—||0.0||—|
|2014||San Francisco 49ers||15||41||34||7||0.0||—||7||3||0||138||46.0||73|
|2013||San Francisco 49ers||16||77||62||15||0.0||—||11||4||0||54||13.5||53|
Out of 80 potential games in 5 seasons (not counting playoffs) he missed 10. For someone with a history of concussions and a shoulder injury, I don’t think it’s that bad. Just for a point of reference, the 49ers were comfortable moving on from Reid because of the play of fellow safety Jaquiski Tartt. Tartt, in 3 seasons, has aready missed 9 games. Please keep that in mind. Not a lot of people have said it, but, I have seen a few people mention him not being employed due to his availability on the field.
At this juncture, I am going to (briefly) address the elephant in the room; Protesting during the National Anthem.
I am personally of the mindset that if I own a team, it would be my right to employ whoever I choose. That said, I’m not sure the NFL feels the same way – they appear to consider it a player’s right to protest peacefully, though that has yet to translate to league action in relation to apparent discrimination against protesting players. Nevertheless, if a team wants a commitment that a player will not do a specific act, whether it be protesting at a certain moment, use certain substances or go certain places, I think that is within the right of whatever business owner there is.
To deviate slightly in order to illustrate my point – personally, I am not opposed to marijuana usage and in the state I reside it may (or may not be legal); however, if I get into an accident in a company vehicle, the first thing I have to do is a medical check and within that check is a drug test (specifically testing for marijuana use). If that substance shows up in my system, even though I used it during my off time, I would be immediately fired.
I am, under no circumstance, suggesting that protesting during the National Anthem is the same as recreational drug usage. However, I’m making a clear distinction between the rights of an individual and what is tolerated by certain employers. I will not pretend to know NFL rules and restrictions. Nor will I pretend that I am uniquely knowledgeable about how they relate to and possibly impact on team owners’ preferences and their ability to act on such preferences. But, if a team is asking for a player to say whether or not they will protest during the anthem, and that is within the NFL rules, then so be it. If not, then FIGHT ON ERIC!
Now that that’s out of the way, I would like to get back to my opening statement. The 49ers misused Eric Reid at the most critical and crucial time in his career – the penultimate years of his rookie contract. That is why I think it’s so hard for him to find a job right now.
The 2016 season was a peculiar one (to say the least) for the 49ers defense. Working inside Jim O’Neil’s defense wasn’t easy for anyone. It was a defensive coordinator selection that I strongly questioned at the time, and continue to question. A lot of players moved around but I think Eric Reid was moved the most. I can recall Reid lining up at 7 different positions on that defense! Let me say that again… SEVEN DIFFERENT POSITIONS! I can recall Reid playing strong safety, free safety, outside and inside linebacker, along the defensive line as a lineman, covering in the slot and as an edge rusher. That is a lot to put on a player but Reid took it all in stride. Despite whatever personal issues Reid may have had about this, he made it clear that he was going to do whatever the team asked regardless of his personal preferences. The obvious issues with this are that Reid was once again forced to play out of position all the while learning a new system (for the 4th time by the way). It takes years for players in stable conditions and systems to perfect their craft. Now imagine having to change everything you know at the drop of a dime (or player for that matter). This was a case of a versatile player being utilized to best help the team but at the detriment of his future career.
Let’s fast-forward to last season, the most important of Reid’s young career: The final year of his rookie contract. Reid started the season preparing to be a box safety, a role that he was excited and jubilant about! The man said “I was made for this position!” (see the video here and go the the 00:53 mark as embedding has been disabled, sorry) https://www.nfl.com/share/8bbfea7c-7bc3-4e6a-b185-2996824e5362 Video courtesy of NFL.COM and 49ers.com.
Anyone who watched Eric Reid in preseason was convinced that he was ready to breakout big time! I just KNEW that the 49ers were going to extend him in a matter of weeks! I think Reid was of the same mindset!
Unfortunately for the hard hitting safety, he was never able to live up to that potential due to injury, his own versatility, and a dearth of talent in other areas. Just a few weeks into the season Reid was asked to make a more permanent move to linebacker, rather than playing snaps there as he had done in previous seasons. This was due to injuries and the release of players at the linebacker position. The release of Navorro Bowman combined with the injuries to two major additions at the position (rookie Reuben Foster, and free agent acquisition Malcolm Smith) forced Reid into a position he had never taken significant snaps at. He would eventually get the snaps at the position he was looking forward to, but not in the quantity needed to provide quality film for future suitors.
This was done during the most important season of his career; his contract year. Players strive to reach this point in their career because if they can thrive and prove their worth, either their current team or another in free agency will likely give them the biggest contract of their lives! The 49ers denied Reid the chance to excel in his contract year, thus causing the biggest injustice to his career. More so than him protesting during the anthem, more than a few missed tackles, more than being beat in coverage while playing out of position. The 49ers, instead of moving other players or signing players from outside the programme, decided to hit the shuffle button on where Reid would play. I think that if Reid was kept in the position he was looking forward to playing, his film would outweigh the protesting that seems to be hampering him from getting a new deal. Reid simply could not put enough good film out there.
To get an idea of what Eric Reid is capable of, I will refer to another well written article by Scott Geelan of Nothing But Niners and Niners Nation
“What does Reid do well?
The things the WILL linebacker is primarily asked to do as a cover player. Yes, Reid is a limited player, but he excels in coverage in the curl-flats/seam-flats area of the field – particularly on the weak side. It’s worth considering that his two best demonstrations of his abilities were against Kansas City in preseason and an at-best second string Rams’ side in the season finale. Just as importantly however, was that Reid was asked, almost exclusively, to play in the curl-flats in those games. His closing speed is extremely impressive, and when paired with his solid open field tackling, ensures offenses struggle to generate any sort of yardage and yards-after-catch when throwing into Reid’s curl-flat zone, even when they try and stress him with levels concepts.
Additionally, Reid is a useful hook zone or robber defender, where he once again shows the ability to read the play developing in front of him and puts himself in position to make the play. He is also a good enough man coverage defender to deal with most running backs in the NFL. Reid’s ability to play a range of cover roles in the short to intermediate areas of the field allows the 49ers to be flexible with their usage of both Reuben Foster and more importantly Tartt. It is primarily his strengths as a cover man that make Reid such an attractive re-signing to play as a cover-linebacker in passing situations. When his focus is in front of him, Reid is a missile.
Reid is also sufficiently effective as a run defender in the box, especially if he does just play in the 49ers’ nickel and dime packages. When employed as a linebacker on base downs there is little doubt that he struggled, but he flashes the decisiveness, ability to sift or work his way through traffic and tackling ability to be a useful run defender from the linebacker spot. An offseason adding a little more weight could also come in handy for Reid as he plays even more in the box than he would have been expected to do as a strong safety.
Reid is also a useful blitzer, off the edge and as an A-gap blitzer. He possesses some pop behind his hands and has the explosiveness to challenge linemen, tight ends and backs to get their hands on him at the snap. His closing speed is his best asset, as when he’s given a run to the QB he invariably gets something on him.”
*To see the full breakdown of Eric Reid by Scott Geelan, use this link: https://www.ninersnation.com/2018/2/6/16974116/eric-reid-film-breakdown-49ers-free-agents-2018 There you will find GIFs to emphasize his strengths (and weaknesses) and more details of his play.
I think the best thing for Reid would have been to return to the 49ers, even on a one year deal and get to play in his desired position. Doing so would benefit all parties involved. Reid would get to perform the way he wants while adding some much needed depth at the position (given the frequent injury history), the team would get a player that they know is capable of handling the workload all the while being a top 3 player at the position. This option is not entirely off the table but I just don’t know how likely it is to occur.
**DISCLAIMER** Not many safeties have found jobs to this point in the off-season so one must include that when determining how fairly Reid is being treated, but let’s be honest; Reid has not had the best opportunity to put his skills on full display because the 49ers simply didn’t give him the proper opportunity. In doing so, I think the team may have cost the 26 year old free agent millions of dollars in the long run.