Mike Mitchell has a theory for why he couldn't find work: 'You know what happened'

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Mike Mitchell signed with the Colts this week. This isn’t particularly noteworthy because veteran free agents regularly land jobs well after the season starts, usually because injuries to players already on the roster necessitate it. But Mitchell’s case is different; the 31-year-old safety spent the last four seasons in Pittsburgh but generated little interest in the offseason.

Perhaps that has something to do with his age and lack of production — Mitchell didn’t have an interception in 2017 and only one in 2016 — or maybe it’s a commentary on the general state of the safety market in a post-Eric Reid world.

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“You know what happened,” Mitchell told The Athletic‘s Stephen Holder after signing in Indianapolis. “I don’t need to say it. I know what you know.”

The implication: Reid knelt alongside Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 season to protest social injustice and police brutality, and did the same in 2017. He went unsigned this offseason and was passed over by several teams — including the Titans and Falcons — in need of help at safety before the Panthers signed him. In May, Reid filed a collusion grievance against the NFL, and a week later the NFL Players Association filed a non-injury grievance on his behalf. 

And while Reid couldn’t find work, other safeties lingered on the free-agent market too, including Mitchell, Kenny Vacarro and Tre Boston. Training camps were underway before Vacarro and Boston signed one-year, $1.5 million deals with the Titans and Cardinals. In an age when defensive backs are more coveted than ever, the lack of zeroes in Boston’s contract didn’t go unnoticed.

“How did we get to a point where this is what we were worth?” Boston asked in August. “You can put my stats up against some of the best of them you’re gonna get me in the $7 million-plus range. It’s crazy that people aren’t really talking about how we managed to get paid less than $2 million.”

Mitchell echoed those sentiments this week.

“If you’re working a regular job and you’re making $100,000 and then, the very next year, they want you to do the exact same work for $20,000, you’d be a little perplexed about that situation,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any different here.”

And just like Mitchell, Boston had an idea back in August what was going on.

“It’s right in front of our eyes,” he said at the time. “Somebody’s got to call a spade a spade. …

“Last year, [there were] three highly paid safeties,” Boston said, referring to Eric BerryKam Chancellor, and Reshad Jones. “It was the highest our market has ever been. And then it just flops this year. It’s the first year any top-five group of free agents has waited into training camp. And a week into camp two of the top five sign. It’s just obvious [what the reasoning is]. I don’t understand why the questions are even there.”

Reid, meanwhile, started for the Panthers last Sunday, less than two weeks after he was signed. Afterwards, he called returning to the NFL “bittersweet,” adding: “I won the game, but Colin is at home with my kids. He should be playing.”

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