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Bengals owner reportedly grills free agent Eric Reid over kneeling during anthem

Then-49ers safety Eric Reid, center, and Colin Kaepernick kneel before a 2016 game. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

If Eric Reid had any lingering doubts as to whether his protests during the anthem have contributed to the chilly market for him in free agency, those were likely erased Wednesday. In his first known visit with an NFL team, the former 49ers free safety was reportedly grilled by Bengals owner Mike Brown about whether he would conform to a team policy prohibiting kneeling during pregame renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

That’s according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who cited “a source with knowledge of the situation” in reporting that Brown’s conversation with Reid “almost exclusively centered on the topic, with Brown explaining that he intends to prohibit it — and with Brown at one point asking Reid for his response.” Taken aback by being put on the spot in that manner, Reid “wasn’t willing to make a commitment” right then and there, per Florio.

Brown probably did not have much to worry about in that regard, as Reid said last month that he was considering “different ways to bring awareness to the issues of this country,” adding, “I don’t think it will be in the form of protesting during the anthem.” However, the sixth-year player, who was among the first to join then-teammate Colin Kaepernick’s protests and has continued his activism, likely wouldn’t react well to being ordered to stop kneeling during the anthem, particularly as the NFL has no rule against it.

Early in free agency, Reid indicated that he could see this sort of situation coming, as he tweeted that NFL general managers were not “the hold up” in terms of him finding employment. “It’s ownership,” he said. “People who know football know who can play. People who know me, know my character.”

The former first-round pick out of LSU has certainly shown he can play, as he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 30th-best safety out of 87 last season. Reid demonstrated valuable versatility in 2017 by filling in ably at linebacker and strong safety, and by doing so in a contract year, he also displayed a willingness to put team goals ahead of individual ones, usually a quality prized by NFL front offices.

Still just 26, Reid is ranked in the top three by many websites in terms of available free agents at any position, and he would appear to provide an upgrade for the Bengals, whose starting safeties last season, George Iloka and Shawn Williams, were rated 40th and 45th, respectively, by PFF. However, assuming Florio’s report is accurate, Brown’s focus on the anthem issue may have damaged Cincinnati’s chances of landing Reid, particularly after Coach Marvin Lewis reportedly returned to that issue later in the player’s visit.

If Reid’s protests are a sticking point for Brown, it would be a notable line in the sand for the owner, given his willingness over the years to stock his roster with some of the NFL’s most notorious players. Cincinnati has made a reclamation project of Adam “Pacman” Jones, has stuck with Vontaze Burfict through multiple suspensions and fines for dirty play and drafted Joe Mixon in the second round last year, after many teams took him off their draft boards entirely for an incident in which he punched a woman in the face while at Oklahoma.

It’s worth pointing out that the market for safeties in general has been sluggish, with the likes of Kenny Vaccaro, Tre Boston and Tyvon Branch also still looking for work. However, it’s apparent that Reid’s protests, even if he intends to discontinue them, are a major source of concern in certain parts of the NFL.

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