Arbitrator to hear Eric Reid’s complaint vs. the Bengals

The self-described “thunderhead” over Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown and his handling of safety Eric Reid’s free-agent visit in April is apparently rolling in quickly. Reid’s complaint against the Bengals – stemming from questions Brown asked about national anthem protests during Reid’s visit with the team – will go before an arbitrator on Tuesday, sources have told Yahoo Sports.

Did Bengals negotiate in bad faith?

The complaint against the Bengals, which was filed on behalf of Reid by the NFL Players Association, has been fast-tracked at Reid’s request. A significant issue at hand, sources have told Yahoo Sports, is whether the Bengals violated a portion of the collective-bargaining agreement by negotiating in bad faith. More specifically, whether the Bengals invited Reid for a free-agent visit and discussed his signing despite knowing the team had no intention of offering a contract if Reid intended to continue kneeling during the national anthem. Reid knelt during the anthem during the 2017 season as a form of protest against social injustice.

Eric Reid (35), taking a knee with Marquise Goodwin (11) during the performance of the national anthem in November, has filed a grievance against the league. (AP)
Eric Reid (35), taking a knee with Marquise Goodwin (11) during the performance of the national anthem in November, has filed a grievance against the league. (AP)

At the time of Reid’s visit, the NFL had no rule prohibiting players from kneeling during the anthem. It will be up to arbitrator Shyam Das to determine whether the Bengals engaged in a bad faith negotiation with Reid.

Arbitrator’s notable history

In what could foreshadow what lies ahead for Reid’s complaint, it’s notable that Das has been an arbitrator in NFL cases since 2004 and has heard several notable cases – including the bounty scandal complaint involving the New Orleans Saints and the personal conduct suspension of then-Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. In both of those cases, Das ruled against the players and in favor of the NFL.

Das has another significant decision on his resume: he ruled against Major League Baseball and overturned a 50-game suspension of Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun for a failed drug test. Not long after that decision, Das was fired by MLB as an arbitrator.

Reid’s meeting with Bengals owner

While sources didn’t reveal Reid’s specific argument against the Bengals, section 8A of the collective-bargaining agreement states that NFL clubs are “under an obligation to negotiate in good faith” when engaged in contract talks with a player or agent. If the Bengals engaged Reid or his agent in negotiations while knowing the team would decline to make a formal offer based on Reid’s answering of protest-based questions, it could be construed by Das as a negotiation in bad faith. The manner of damages Reid would be eligible for and the potential consequences for the Bengals are unknown.

The 26-year-old Reid visited the Bengals in early April but left without a contract offer. subsequently reported that Reid had a personal conversation with Brown during that visit, centering almost entirely on Reid’s past decision to kneel during the national anthem and whether it was something he planned to continue. Sources close to Reid also affirmed that incident with Yahoo Sports. The allegation from Reid’s camp was that his visit and the Bengals’ interest turned on that conversation with Brown, in which Reid declined to give a guarantee that he would no longer kneel during the national anthem.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Brown called the issue a “thunderhead” but declined to speak specifically about the grievance or anything related to the league’s national anthem rules, saying that the NFL had asked clubs to refrain from commenting on it.

“I think it’s tomorrow I have a sit-down with the lawyers on our side of that issue,” Brown told reporters of the Reid grievance. “Do I regret stepping into it the way that I apparently did? I think you know the answer to that. It has become a grievance, a lawsuit. I don’t want to get into that matter here. I think my counsel would appreciate my silence on the matter here and suggest I say what I have to say to him.”

The conduct of Bengals owner Mike Brown during a free-agent meeting with Eric Reid is under scrutiny. (AP)
The conduct of Bengals owner Mike Brown during a free-agent meeting with Eric Reid is under scrutiny. (AP)

Here’s why NFLPA got involved

Reid’s free-agent interest, according to those close to him, has been “nonexistent”. In May, the NFLPA filed a grievance on his behalf aimed at the NFL and the Bengals. In that release, the union laid out a framework for why it believed the Bengals had violated the CBA.

According to the union’s statement:

The NFLPA has filed a non-injury grievance and a system arbitrator case on behalf of free agent safety Eric Reid. Prior to the start of the current NFL off-season, our Union directed the agents of free agent players who had participated in peaceful on-field demonstrations to collect, memorialize and report any relevant information about potential violations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement by teams. These cases were filed based upon the following:

* There is no League rule that prohibits players from demonstrating during the national anthem.

* The NFL has made it clear both publicly and to the NFLPA that they would respect the rights of players to demonstrate.

* The Collective Bargaining Agreement definitively states that League (NFL) rules supersede any conflicting club rules.

* According to our information, a club appears to have based its decision not to sign a player based on the player’s statement that he would challenge the implementation of a club’s policy prohibiting demonstration, which is contrary to the League policy.

* At least one club owner has asked preemployment interview questions about a player’s intent to demonstrate. We believe these questions are improper, given League policy.

Our Union continues to monitor these developments.

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