Panthers get better, show new owner's mindset with Eric Reid signing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The signing of free safety Eric Reid on Thursday was the biggest statement so far that things will be different with the Carolina Panthers under new owner David Tepper.

Far bigger than replacing the NFL shield from the middle of Bank of America Stadium -- as former owner Jerry Richardson insisted remain from the time the Panthers played their first game there in 1996 -- with the team logo.

It's also a statement the Panthers (2-1) believe they have a legitimate shot to win the Super Bowl.

Let's talk about the first issue: Tepper.

Changing their image

Though Tepper has made no official comment on his stance about protests during the national anthem, it was understood that Richardson was adamant players stand during the anthem. Three former members of the organization said that issue alone would have made the Reid signing highly unlikely.

Richardson met with team captains in September 2017 because a group of Carolina players were upset that the owner "strongly" held beliefs that would not allow them to participate in protests such as the one Reid did in 2016 when he joined former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality and social injustice.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn at the time said that prior to Richardson's meeting, some players were "scared" to express themselves around the league because of the way it might look to the team's founder.

"You don't want to try to put that bad taste in people's mouths," Munnerlyn said then. "You don't know where he stands on that situation, so you just try to fall back and -- this is my job. That's the guy who writes my checks and that's how I feed my family."

So it's hard to imagine Richardson agreeing to sign Reid, who not only joined Kaepernick in kneeling but has since filed a grievance against the NFL. Reid claimed the league, influenced by President Donald Trump, colluded to prevent his employment because of the protests.

That grievance will not be dropped and there are no guarantees Reid will not protest once the Panthers resume their schedule with an Oct. 7 game against the New York Giants.

Reid held up his right fist in a photograph on the team website during his signing of the one-year deal. That is a gesture that several other NFL players, including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, have done as a means of protest during the anthem.

Tepper has not shied away from being critical of Trump. He ripped the then-Republican nominee before the presidential election in 2016 on CNBC over his lack of charitable giving. He also has made it clear it is his goal to change the image of the organization following claims of sexual and racial workplace misconduct against Richardson.

"Now, this is going to be an open place," Tepper said when the sale was finalized.

Will Reid take a stance and protest in his first game with the Panthers? Though general manager Marty Hurney insisted this strictly was a "football decision" and that wasn't the topic during negotiations, coach Ron Rivera has strong feelings because of his family's military background about being respectful during the anthem.

The only Carolina player who protested last season was defensive end Julius Peppers. The future Hall of Famer didn't come out of the locker room for the anthem the first game players around the league took a stance.

He has since been on the field for every anthem and no other Carolina player has protested.

'Panthers just got a whole lot better'

What Reid can do for the Panthers is make them better. They were down to three safeties after Da'Norris Searcy was placed on injured reserve last week following his second concussion in a month.

Starting strong safety Mike Adams is 37. Colin Jones, who started at free safety, is steady but known more for being a standout special-teams player. Rashaan Gaulden is a rookie selected in the third round who has potential.

Reid was a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie in 2013, when the 49ers drafted him with the 18th overall pick. He had 10 interceptions from 2013 to '17 despite missing nine games the past two seasons.

Carolina wide receiver Torrey Smith, who played for the 49ers in 2015 and '16, called Reid a "great leader" and "one of the best men that I know."

"I know that with the injuries we have, he's a guy that can help this team," Smith added.

The Panthers badly needed help at safety. Opponents have completed 12 of 15 passes in the middle of the field between the numbers. That's the seventh-most completions in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Said Reid's brother, Houston Texans safety Justin Reid: "The Panthers just got a whole lot better."

So why didn't the Panthers sign Reid during the offseason when they were searching for a safety to replace Kurt Coleman, who was released in February?

Hurney insisted the team was watching the free-agent transactions and how they might affect getting valuable compensatory picks in the 2019 draft. Searcy didn't impact the formula used to determine those picks because he was released by Tennessee, and the Panthers believed he could help the team.

Reid would have made a big impact on that then, but he won't now.

Plus, the need is bigger now, and the Panthers believe they have a chance to do something special with one of the best defensive front sevens in the NFL and an offense that is beginning to click under new Panthers coordinator Norv Turner.

"We think he can come in and help us win games," Hurney said.

So do others around the league.

"He's a great football player," San Francisco linebacker Reuben Foster said. "He's about to go out there and do his thing and show them what [they've] been missing."

He added that a team signing Reid was a long time coming because "Reid is a hell of a player."

Coleman, now with NFC South rival New Orleans, agreed Reid's signing with any teams was overdue.

"Their needs are bigger than their own self-take on things that's out here that's going on," he said of the Panthers. "I'm happy for Eric. He's a good player."

Whether Richardson would have allowed this signing, Coleman wouldn't speculate.

"All I know is Tepper's the new owner and obviously he has the final say as far as these type of signings go, and he was OK with it," Coleman said. "I'm just happy that he's able to have a job, and hopefully he goes out there and he does really well with them."

NFL Nation reporters Mike Triplett, Sarah Barshop and Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.