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Why Eric Reid is the most intriguing free agent on the market

San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid just returned to his Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home after spending one month in South Africa. The trip has become an annual voyage in which the 26-year-old is accompanied by his wife, Jaid (who was born in Cape Town), and their two young children. The trip focuses around an organization called “Ubuntu Football,” an entity in South Africa whose aim is to implement change among young boys through education, faith and soccer.

“Their goal is to have their boys [upwards of 100 of them as of today] become fathers to combat the statistic that 60 percent of them do not have fathers,” Reid told Yahoo Sports. “For them to become doctors, lawyers – maybe they can become the next president of their country.”

49ers general manager John Lynch (left) greets safety Eric Reid after San Francisco beat the Jaguars last season. (AP)

Now that he’s back, the business of the NFL emerges to the forefront as he’s set to become a free agent next week. It remains to be seen whether Reid’s decision to kneel with Colin Kaepernick will affect his professional landscape to the same degree as the quarterback who has filed a grievance against the league after not landing with a team last year.

Reid told ESPN in late December that he wasn’t concerned that his activism would harm future employment prospects in the league, saying, “I would say I understand that’s a possibility. And I’m completely fine with it.” He declined to comment further on free agency to Yahoo Sports, instead referring to previous statements on the matter.

What is certain for Reid is his commitment to continuing to live his life in a way that brings those around him to new heights, both on and off the field.

“It’s just so fulfilling,” Reid said of his trip abroad. “It’s hard for me to describe how I actually feel being there. It’s been so powerful for me.”

Helping others – albeit to honor both Jaid’s and his South African heritage or on the gridiron – is hardly out of the ordinary for Reid, whose personal foundation in Baton Rouge (separate from his work with Ubuntu Football) is in the fiscal stages as a non-profit empowering marginalized communities through education. And, just as an assortment of veterans helped him as a rookie Pro Bowler in 2013, he takes great pride in doing the same.

“To feel like I’ve played a role in helping someone else achieve their goal, that comes second to nothing,” he says. “The thing that I love is seeing other people succeed and that’s with every walk of life. … I want to be the type of teammate that can help somebody else be successful and I’ve always done that. I’m most excited about being in the locker room, being a veteran now and hopefully accelerate somebody else’s career through what I’ve learned in mine. That’s what teamwork is about.”

Part of being a great teammate, Reid says, is being accountable. That is why he bought a one-month membership to a local gym in Cape Town to train daily. When gym work wasn’t sufficient, he found a nearby soccer field and spent hours training in the 90-degree heat.

Eric Reid, 26, told Yahoo Sports: “I think my best football is in front of me.” (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

It is also why when the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff came to Reid last season – in a contract year mind you – and needed him to switch to linebacker, he accepted the task, viewing it more as an opportunity rather than a chore.

“The coaches told me I would be changing positions, basically because they said it was the best thing for the team,” he says. “There was nobody else they thought could do it and they believed I could be successful at it. I was immediately open to it. I was like, ‘OK, let’s get it.’ … I was pumped about it. It was going to be a challenge, and I love a challenge.”

A challenge he got. The Niners released linebacker NaVorro Bowman in October and didn’t have much depth at linebacker. Reid, a former first-round draft choice, had never played linebacker and was coming off a Week 2 injury that kept him out of three games. He was then disappointed to learn that he wouldn’t be starting either, at least not right away.

“I started to question the situation,” he says. “They continued to tell me they thought it was best for the team. I believed them, so I rolled with the punches. I was just going to be a good teammate at this point. … Either be mad about it, or pragmatic about it and get the job done.

“It’s not because I lost a step at all. It’s what the team needed, so it’s what I did.”

In his new role, Reid earned a series of positive game grades from Pro Football Focus and “surprised” even himself. Shortly thereafter, though, there was an injury in the secondary and the team needed him to revert back to safety, but this time on the strong side – he played free safety during his first four years – a transition he had no qualms with. Better yet, Reid’s play at both positions validated his belief in himself. Playing strictly safety toward the end of the season, he displayed his prowess as a heat-seeking missile and as the last line of defense.

According to Pro Football Focus, Reid enjoyed his best professional season, posting a healthy 81.4 overall grade (which tops his rookie year Pro Bowl campaign). In a Week 17 win over the Los Angeles Rams, Reid shined, earning the PFF “Game Ball,” while amassing four stops and a 96.5 grade.

Shutdown Corner ranked Reid as the eighth-best defensive player available in free agency.

Additionally, Bleacher Report recognized the former LSU standout as the 10th-best strong safety in the NFL.

Reid showed versatility last season for the 49ers, playing both safety and linebacker. (AP)

To that point, Reid enters free agency in solid shape, committed to playing safety either for the 49ers – whose defensive coaching staff he lauded for “not having an ego” and “loved working with” – or for another franchise.

Plenty of teams – think Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Oakland, Seattle and possibly Arizona – need safety help, and given Reid’s upside and understanding of the 49ers’ culture and defense, a return to San Francisco remains a possibility.

“Yeah, I definitely would like him in [our long-term plans],” head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters during a late November news conference. “Eric Reid is a very good player and I like how he handles himself. I really respect the person. … I know based off the player and person he’s definitely a guy I would like back here.”

Regardless of where he ends up though, Reid, who remains confident in his ability, is ready to hit the ground running.

“I think it’s really empowering as a player to be with a coaching staff that makes you feel like it cares to what you see and feel as a player,” he said. “I think my best football is in front of me. I still got a lot football left in me. I feel like I can play another five to seven years, if not more. I really want that too. I feel great and can’t wait for next season.”

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Follow Jordan Schultz on Twitter and Instagram @Schultz_Report

Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports.

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