The targeting of Eric Reid: Where he's probably wrong, and dead right

ByDan Graziano ESPN logo
Thursday, November 29, 2018

Eric Reid appears determined to keep being a thorn in the NFL's side, and he's a thorn of the league's own making.

Reid's needling (no pun intended) of the league over what he perceives as excessive drug testing might not have made much of a ripple last year. The league was already in Thorn City, as it dealt with ratings declines, national anthem controversies, the catch rule ... it spent 2017 in continual troubleshooting mode.

This year, though, has provided relief on multiple fronts. Scoring is up. Ratings are up. The catch rule has been alloyed with common sense and no longer dominates the Monday morning talk-show scene. Reid is one of the few players still kneeling for the anthem, and the president has stopped making it an issue.

But Reid's still out here with an ax to grind, and it's the NFL that put that ax in his hands.

In case you're not caught up on what we're talking about, Reid has been suggesting that the NFL is making him submit to more drug tests than other players, possibly in retaliation for his pending collusion grievance against the league. Reid says he has been tested five times since his initial drug test in the two months following his signing with the Panthers, and he believes that's suspicious.

"It's supposed to be random," Reid said. "It's obviously not."

The reality of the drug testing

Reid is a smart guy, and he likely knows the NFL can't present evidence to refute his aspersions. Any league or NFLPA official who commented on the number and frequency of Reid's drug tests would be in violation of the league's drug policy, which requires players' testing histories to be kept private. Reid can talk about them all he wants, but the program administrators cannot.

That said, we can examine the potential veracity of Reid's claim with some rudimentary numbers. The league's policy on performance-enhancing substances states that, "Each week during the preseason and regular season, ten (10) Players on every Club will be tested. By means of a computer program, the Independent Administrator will randomly select the Players to be tested from the club's active roster, practice squad list, and reserve list who are not otherwise subject to ongoing reasonable cause testing for performance-enhancing substances."

Break that down: There are 53 players on the Carolina Panthers' active roster, 10 on injured reserve and 10 on the practice squad -- a total of 73. Knock off a handful who don't count because they're "otherwise subject to ongoing reasonable cause testing," such as linebacker Thomas Davis, who was suspended for the first four games of this season for a PED violation, and let's estimate for the sake of easy math that there are 65 Panthers players subject to weekly random testing. Of those 65, 10 are tested every week, which means that, in general, you're probably going to be tested once every six weeks. The notion that Reid could have been randomly selected for testing two or three times by now is not at all unreasonable.

Additionally, when a team signs a player, it can (and always does) test him for both PEDs and for substances of abuse. So that's two more tests Reid certainly took upon signing. Getting to the number five isn't very hard, even without raising any eyebrows.

So that's the math, and then there's the common sense. It's completely insane to think the NFL would put its carefully crafted, jointly negotiated drug policy at risk just to exact petty revenge on one player. If anything, if the NFL were worried about losing a collusion case, league administrators would go hard in the other direction and be especially certain the player in question had nothing on which to hang them.

But Reid does have a point

The problem is, it was also completely insane for 32 NFL teams to let a qualified 26-year-old starting safety sit around without a job until late September just because they were worried about fan backlash over the manner in which an American citizen exercises his right to engage in peaceful protest. Just to illustrate one example: Had the Cincinnati Bengals--who are allowing 292 passing yards per game -- not made an issue of Reid's social justice protests when they considered and passed on signing him, we wouldn't be in this situation. Had the NFL's teams not spent the past two years refusing to seriously consider signing 31-year-old former NFC champion quarterback Colin Kaepernick because of their fear that the angriest segments of their fan bases would lose their minds over it, we wouldn't be in this situation.

Reid has been outspoken in his belief that Kaepernick should still have a job in the NFL and that he himself should have had one long before late September. He has sued the league over it, and he didn't withdraw the suit even after the Panthers signed him. He has continued his protest even after others have stopped theirs because he believes there are serious issues that have yet to be resolved or seriously addressed. He has publicly feuded with Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, calling Jenkins a "sellout" for engaging in conciliatory activity with the league over players' social justice protests and the league's desire for players to stand for the anthem.

Reid isn't interested in piping down or making the NFL's life easier, and it's easy to understand why. He feels he was done wrong. He feels his friend is still being done wrong. And whether you agree with him or not, you can't deny there's evidence out there to support his feelings.

It's extremely unlikely that the NFL has targeted Reid for additional drug testing beyond that to which his peers are subjected. But it's also extremely easy to understand why he'd leap to such a conclusion. And even if he realizes that he isn't being targeted, it's easy to understand why he'd take the opportunity to raise public suspicion as a means of enacting his own revenge for what happened to him this summer.

Even if the NFL isn't screwing over Eric Reid at the moment, it spent six months from March to September screwing him over. His accusations, which the NFL is powerless to dispute, are just one part of the bill coming due.