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Does Eric Reid signing make way for a Kaepernick comeback?

The Pro Bowl safety is back in the league after signing with the Panthers, but questions remain

What about Colin Kaepernick?

The question immediately comes to mind now that safety Eric Reid, aligned with Kaepernick in a legal battle against the NFL, has signed a one-year contract to join the Carolina Panthers. In collusion grievances, the friends and former San Francisco 49ers teammates allege owners conspired to keep them unemployed because of their political activism. Reid was the first player to kneel alongside Kaepernick more than two years ago to draw attention to racial injustice and police brutality. Now that he’s on a roster for the first time since last season, could the door suddenly be ajar for the activist quarterback as well?

The Undefeated contacted officials from several NFL teams to discuss Kaepernick’s prospects. All declined to comment on whether the Panthers’ signing of Reid, who reportedly plans to move forward with his grievance against the league, signaled a shift in thinking that could lead to Kaepernick returning to the game. What’s clear, however, is that Reid’s comeback raises questions about Kaepernick’s future, and it will undoubtedly have an effect on the players’ upcoming arbitration hearings.

Reid became a free agent when his contract expired in March. Although it wasn’t shocking that he went unsigned at the outset of free agency (teams rarely pursue safeties early in the process), eyebrows were raised as he remained on the sidelines throughout training camp and the first three weeks of the season. Other than the Cincinnati Bengals, whom Reid visited in April, other teams did not show interest in him despite his solid performance with San Francisco, which included a Pro Bowl selection after his rookie season. Moreover, Bengals owner Mike Brown allegedly questioned Reid about his future plans to protest during the playing of the national anthem, stirring speculation that teams backed away from Reid because of his activism.

The Panthers were in need of a proven safety because veteran Da’Norris Searcy was placed on injured reserve after suffering his second concussion in a month. Wide receiver Torrey Smith, who’s among the league’s most socially conscious players, lobbied for Carolina to sign Reid. For many reasons, it made sense for the Panthers to add Reid to their roster. Of course, an even stronger argument could be made for teams to bring in Kaepernick.

Kaepernick plays the game’s most important position. And by any objective criteria, he has played it well. During a five-season stretch, Kaepernick started in two NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl. He amassed a touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio that ranks among the best in NFL history. And yet, he remains on the outside looking in as his friend resumes his career.

The NFL recently failed in its attempt to have Kaepernick’s grievance thrown out, with an arbitrator ruling that it will go to trial. If a team signed Kaepernick, just like with Reid, he could still pursue his grievance.

Regardless of whether Kaepernick’s NFL career continues, experts in labor law are intrigued by what the Panthers’ move could mean for the collusion grievances. Susan D. Carle, a professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law and an expert in discrimination, labor and employment law, believes Kaepernick “still has a strong case. And I don’t think Reid’s case is defeated by this. I don’t think this is going to make or break his case.”

Thomas A. Lenz, a lecturer at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, agrees. “I don’t think Reid signing a contract would wipe away” the grievances, Lenz said. “I don’t think it wipes away his claim as to what happened to him between the last time he was under contract until now.

“There’s still that question of, ‘Why wasn’t he playing? Why weren’t they playing? Why couldn’t he get a contract?’ And there’s still a potential remedy of lost earnings for that period of time. Was it due to collusion?”

Even with Reid working again, that’s definitely a question he and Kaepernick still want answered.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.