Upon reflection, Eric Reid doesn’t sound thrilled with the way things ended with the team that drafted him. He’ll have his first opportunity to play against the 49ers on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers come to Levi’s Stadium.
“Revenge wouldn’t be the word that I would use,” Reid told reporters this week. “I’m determined to play them.”
Reid, whom the 49ers traded up for in the first round of the 2013 draft to replace departed free safety Dashon Goldson, was asked to play linebacker in 2017. It was the final year of his contract before he signed with Carolina three weeks into the following campaign after remaining unemployed for the entire offseason.
The 49ers’ decision not to bring him back was made a season after he began kneeling alongside Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem to protest what they see as systemic racism and police brutality in the United States.
“I remember they changed my position in my contract year,” Reid said. “They released NaVorro Bowman who led the NFL in tackles the year before, asked me to play his position.
“So that will be on my mind when I get there.”
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he understood why Reid would be upset about being asked to change positions during his contract year.
“That’s the hard thing about coaching,” Shanahan said. “That’s the hard thing about playing too. But we were trying to get our best 11 guys out there. Sometimes you got to do what’s best for the team and ask guys to be in a spot they might be uncomfortable with. What’s cool about it, when we did ask him to, I know he wasn’t excited about it, but he did it and did it well – and did what was best for the team even though he wasn’t happy with it. .... (He) played at a very high level for us throughout the year that I was very appreciative of.”
Reid was a Pro Bowl alternate his rookie season and was one of the team’s best players throughout the lean years following Jim Harbaugh’s departure. He was forced to deal with constant turnover of the coaching staff and had four different coordinators during his five seasons with San Francisco: Vic Fangio, Eric Mangini, Jim O’Neil and Robert Saleh, who was asked Thursday about the reasoning behind asking Reid to change positions.
Saleh indicated the decision to move Reid to linebacker came from above his pay grade.
“I’m not always a part of those (decisions),” Saleh said. “That would probably be more of a question for John (Lynch) and Kyle. Just for me speaking as a person who got to coach him, (Reid) has tremendous versatility, very, very smart, loved having him around, tremendous leader. Can’t say enough good things about him. But, sometimes in this league you end up with whatever decisions have to be made.”
Reid’s positions change came after the team released Bowman in October of 2017, early in the new regime’s first season, when he requested a trade due to diminished playing time. Bowman was coming off a torn Achilles that cost him 12 games the previous year and San Francisco added his potential replacement, Reuben Foster, in the first round of that draft. Foster was in and out of the lineup with injuries during his rookie year, and the coaching staff determined Reid would be a better option than backup linebackers at the time, Brock Coyle and Ray-Ray Armstrong.
The 49ers didn’t find a trade partner and released Bowman to allow him to join a team of his choosing. He signed with the Raiders.
“When the draft happened, it kind of started moving fast, I had just come off an Achilles,” Bowman said in June after he formally retired with the 49ers. “And so, you need time to get back and I just thought it wasn’t given to me. But, there’s pressure too, when you’re new and you move in, so you want to start making those changes. I understood the business.”
The 49ers instead decided to make Jaquiski Tartt, a 2015 second-round draft pick, their long-term strong safety. He signed a two-year contract extension during the 2018 draft worth up to $15 million through 2020.
“Tartt came in and played at a very high level,” Shanahan said Friday. “We knew he had more years on his contract, we wanted to renew it with him. It happens a lot in football. It happened to C.J. (Beathard) last year with Nick Mullens. (Reid) had his opportunity, but it was a little less about and more about Tartt, and us deciding that’s who we wanted here for the long haul.”
Reid indicated he was unhappy with the way he was treated by San Francisco in light of Kaepernick’s departure from the team when the new regime was put in place. Kaepernick, of course, opted out of his contract and the 49ers said he would have been released regardless because he wasn’t a fit for Shanahan’s offense.
“There’s layers to it,” Reid said. “Definitely the way Colin was treated, definitely I felt like I was treated there. The way they run their organization, ask anybody who’s been there and they’ll tell you the same.”
That’s a belief that many current 49ers would dispute. The general feeling is Shanahan and Lynch have cultivated a strong locker room culture in which players are happy to be apart of.
Reid praised team CEO Jed York for supporting him and Kaepernick during their protest in 2016 and later in 2017 when it became a hot-button issue throughout the league after President Trump weighed in, telling NFL owners to “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now” during a rally in Alabama when discussing players kneeling during the anthem.
“I’ve talked to Jed, and he’s expressed very clearly that he wants to support us. That he’s not going to force us to do anything,” Reid said.
But things have changed now that Reid is playing elsewhere. Though he also said he doesn’t harbor resentment to everyone in the organization. 49ers players this week had nothing but good things to say about their former teammate.
“He’s a great teammate,” defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “Really approachable guy to talk to. ... He tried to be a team guy, tried to play linebacker, the position change, tried to take on that challenge. Hell of a player. It was unfortunate what happened with the situation.”
Said tight end George Kittle, who was a rookie during Reid’s final season in San Francisco and will be matched up with him throughout Sunday: “I had a great experience with Eric when he played here. He was a great leader for us. I’m excited to get to play again him. It’ll be really fun. I got to do it in practice my whole rookie year and I’m looking forward to doing it again.”