CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Eric Reid's return to the NFL created a buzz around the league on Thursday, six months after he filed a grievance alleging collusion by the NFL to prevent teams from signing him because of his participation in racial injustice protests during the national anthem alongside former San Francisco 49ers teammate Colin Kaepernick.
Some NFL players were excited about the 2013 Pro Bowl safety signing a one-year deal with the Panthers, but were quick to point out they believe Kaepernick should be back in the league as well.
Kaepernick congratulated his Reid on Twitter, saying Reid "should have been signed the 1st day of free agency. ... He was the 1ST person 2 kneel alongside me. Eric is a social justice warrior, continues to support his family and communities in need."
Browns running back Carlos Hyde, who played with Reid and Kaepernick in San Francisco, was stunned to hear his former teammate had been picked up by the Panthers.
"For real?" Hyde said following Cleveland's practice. "I'm so happy for him. It's been too long. I kind of felt like they was doing him the same way they were doing Kap, so it's good to see E-Reid got signed and Kap should definitely be up next. It would be a real good thing then."
Said Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett, "It's about time."
As for Reid, who filed his grievance in May, he was mum during the hoopla on Thursday, declining comment through the Panthers and not weighing in on social media except to re-tweet Kaepernick.
The 26-year-old Reid said in March that he doesn't plan to protest during the national anthem this season. The Panthers have a bye this week and next play at home on Oct. 7 against the New York Giants.
Kaepernick, who filed his grievance in October 2017 and remains a free agent, began protesting racial and social injustice during the 2016 preseason by kneeling during the national anthem. Reid later joined the quarterback. After that other players around the league joined in, much to the displeasure of President Trump, who Tweeted at players to "Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!"
That sparked a polarizing political debate that divided some NFL fans.
Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills knelt during this year's season opener against the Titans.
"I'm just happy for (Reid), excited to see him get out there on the field and be the impact player we all know he is," Stills said Thursday. "Obviously I feel like he should have been signed the first day of free agency."
Stills said he spoke to Kaepernick, his close friend, on Thursday.
"He wants to play. He's good enough to play. He deserves to play," Stills said. "I don't see why a team won't sign him, or hasn't signed him."
The decision by the Panthers to sign Reid comes less than three months after David Tepper bought the team from conservative owner Jerry Richardson.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said he wasn't concerned about Reid's past protests, telling The Associated Press it was a "football decision" — and one that was approved by Tepper.
"Every decision we make we communicate with" Tepper, the GM said. "Everybody we sign we ask if he has the skill set, does he fit into our system, and if he can help us win football games — and we feel the answer is yes."
Eric Reid's younger brother, Justin, who plays safety for the Texans, said he is "immensely proud" of what his older brother stands for "in trying to have a voice for the voiceless."
When asked if he believes his brother was not signed earlier by NFL teams because of his decision to protest, Justin Reid said "I'm going to try and defer away from that."
Reid is expected to start right away after the Panthers placed starter Da'Norris Searcy on injured reserve last week with a concussion. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Reid played the first five seasons of his NFL career with San Francisco after the 49ers selected him in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. He has started 69 games.
"He's a physical safety with good ball skills and he makes plays and he has experience," Hurney said. "He's a young player with skins on the wall. He has played at a very high level."
Forty Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh confirmed Thursday they inquired about signing Reed this week after injuries to Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert.
"E-Reid is familiar with our system and we know him, are comfortable with him," Saleh said. "Obviously, it didn't work out, but any time you have the opportunity you explore it."