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What Eric Reid’s deal means for his collusion case against the NFL, explained by a lawyer

A lawyer explains why he thinks Reid’s collusion case may be “baked,” and why it’s important to remain skeptical of the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Eric Reid was signed by the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, September 27. It’s a victory for supporters of Reid, who was the first player to join Colin Kaepernick in protest during the 2016 season. The move also allowed the Panthers to reinforce their secondary with an All-Pro-caliber player.

However, there are looming questions about what this could mean for Reid’s collusion case in California. Following in Kaepernick’s steps, Reid filed a collusion lawsuit against the NFL in May. Both men retained the services of California based lawyer Mark Geragos. Reid’s claims of collusion were similar to Kaepernick’s, believing he was ousted from the league following continued protests of systemic injustice and police killings against people of color in the country.

Kaepernick’s ongoing case recently saw a win with the arbitrator last month. With Reid making making a move in which football and employment took top priority, his promising collusion case is now in question.

John Burris is a Bay Area civil rights lawyer and represents Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton and NFL defensive end Michael Bennett — another player that protested in the NFL over systemic abuses against people of color. He spoke with SB Nation on Thursday about what happens next in Reid’s collusion case, why he thinks it may be “baked,” and why it’s important to remain skeptical of the NFL until Kaepernick is also employed.

SBN: As far as we know, his deal with the Panthers has no impact on his collusion case. If that’s the truth, how does this play for Eric Reid’s collusion case against the NFL?

Burris: Well I think that’s a difficult matter. What was he out just this year? If he’s out only a few games it will be very difficult to maintain a collusion case for him. There’s all kinds of reasons he didn’t get an offer that the NFL could say. He did appear to be blackballed in one sense: it took a while for this to happen. To the extent that he did not have to make any agreements and the case can go forward, it probably undermines the case itself in terms of collusion and real impact. He did get a job and wasn’t out as long as Kaepernick. Kaepernick is a different case because he was out and has been out for a substantial period of time and there’s no end in sight. For Eric Reid, it wasn’t that long.

SBN: Can you expand on that? Why would it be diminished if it is possible there is evidence of collusion already? Or if this a moment where the collusion, league-wise, could have just ended?

Burris: You have to prove the collusion no matter what. Whether it existed from when he last signed a contract up until now, that’s a real question. It may very well be true that collusion is there. The question is the damages. The value goes down because he now has income. He’s working. That doesn’t mean collusion didn’t exist from his unemployment up until now. But the value of what he can gain has diminished. If he gets another job, like now, and he gets cut in a week or two, that looks more like a sham offer.

We need to see what happens here. It could easily incorporate again the collusion aspects of the case. In the NFL, you can never gauge genuineness.

SBN: There have been safeties across the league who have seen their free agency options shrink, too. This summer after Mr. Reid announced his collusion case, another safety said the league could be colluding to underpay safeties. Is that something that still plays out here? If he took less money than his market value would he still have a claim because he had to hurt himself to get a job?

Burris: That goes to the value question. If he had to take below market value in order to get a job then his damages still exist. The collusion aspect of it may very well continue in terms of production of the damages. That is to say if he’s making $2 million now and the average player makes $5 million, in order to get a job you took the reduced value and what happens is you still have the case. When you reduce the value of what you are getting instead of what you should’ve gotten, those are issues the lawyers will have to work through if the collusion case continues. He would be entitled to get whatever the difference is there.

SBN: What could this mean for someone like Colin Kaepernick and his collusion case if someone who protested with him got a job, while he’s still unemployed for the same reasons?

Burris: It only illustrates the collusion aspect of it. I think he’s in a totally different category altogether. I think that Kaepernick is much more hated and feared by the NFL than Eric Reid because of his national, world-class stature if you will. And the fan base. Eric Reid doesn’t have the impact on the fans, the economic aspect of the NFL, as Kaepernick has. At least that’s the perception. Kaepernick’s case goes on full steam ahead.

SBN: What does this moment even mean if you’re Eric Reid when it comes to the legality of the signing? Is there anything that can help or hurt his case at this point?

Burris: His collusion case is baked. That’s done. [The collusion] was up until the time he gets the agreement and signed. Then the question becomes whether this is a genuine signing and whether he sticks out the season and plays, as opposed to being signed, sitting on the bench and either cut or not playing. There can be an argument there that this was a rouse. It was designed to undermine his case. On the other hand, if he does play and does well, then the collusion component will stop at that moment and the damages will be what he lost up to this point.

SBN: Is it possible Eric Reid filed his collusion lawsuit too soon?

Burris: No. I don’t think so. He was out. And all indications were he was not going to be signed. A guy of his stature, an All-Pro player, that’s not the type of player that walks around without a team. So, all we can really say is that there had to be some collusion to prevent that from happening. This is a guy that should’ve been signed. And he was not signed. And we wanna know why. There has to be some type of reason given the quality of player he is.

SBN: It took multiple injuries across the NFC South for Eric Reid to even get the nod for a job. He didn’t get signed in free agency. He wasn’t on a team before camp. It took this. Does that help his case at all that it came to an exhaustive moment to be considered for a job?

Burris: That’s true and in part that’s what the collusion case is about. They had to walk through all these other safeties being hurt to even decide if they wanted to do this. At the end of the day, he wasn’t first on anybody’s list and he should’ve been. The collusion part of this remains front and center.

SBN: What else should we know about this? What happens next?

Burris: To me, it looks like the owners, individually or collectively, that someone should find a place for him if they can...One has to look at this skeptically. What if this was an effort to undermine his collusion case? But one has to be happy for Eric Reid. It’s good for him. He gets a job. He goes back to work. He’s in the prime of his career. The next question is: what are they going to do about Kaepernick?

This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.