SANTA CLARA – Eric Reid sought an answer about his future with the 49ers.
But the 49ers did not tell him what he wanted to hear.
The 49ers need to see how things turn out over the final nine games of the season to figure out the organization’s preferred path for 2018 and beyond.
Reid, who started every game he appeared through his first four seasons at safety, is now a linebacker. Jaquiski Tartt is the 49ers’ present and, more than likely, future strong safety.
“By no means is anything final,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said during a sit-down interview Thursday for “49ers Game Plan,” which airs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Bay Area.
“Eric has played in 2 ½ games for us this year. Tartt has played well in the games he’s played. We got a number of games left. I’m trying to figure out what our guys are, and what’s going to help our team the most and what we’re going to do, going forward. We don’t have all those answers, yet.”
The 49ers moved Reid to a role as a linebacker in passing situations last week against the Dallas Cowboys. This week, he moved full-time into his new position – a decision based on putting the team’s best 11 players on the field as well as adapting to the demands of defending a new breed of running backs and tight ends.
The 49ers face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, and Reid will likely see more action while making a contribution when it comes covering tight end Zach Ertz, who leads the team with 39 catches for 494 yards and five touchdowns.
“He’s taken a huge step forward this week, his second week at it and being more comfortable, knowing what to expect in games I’m excited to see him out there on Sunday,” Shanahan said of Reid.
The 49ers see Reid’s transition as a logical move for a team with two other starting-caliber safeties. The team also has a need at linebacker after losing Malcolm Smith to a season-ending pectoral injury in training camp and granting veteran NaVorro Bowman his release two weeks ago.
“What Eric Reid has done as a safety is unquestioned,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He is one of the better safeties in all of football. Tartt is a very good safety. Jimmie Ward is a very good safety. Eric Reid being a very physical player that he is, and being one of our smartest players, we as an organization felt like it wouldn’t be an issue for him to move a couple yards closer than he already was.”
As Reid was returning from a knee injury that kept him sidelined for three games he said he fully expected to regain his starting role upon his return. That did not happen. He is scheduled to be a free agent in March, and it goes to reason his spot in the 49ers’ defense for the remainder of this season will have a major impact on his value as a free agent.
“I asked them explicitly, ‘Can you at least tell me if I’m going to be here next year to play this position?’ ” Reid said. “They told me, ‘No.’ Coach Saleh said he doesn’t make those decisions. Right now, I just trust that the film I have at safety is good enough for me to enter free agency with and just get some film at linebacker as well.”
Reid’s move is not unprecedented. At nearly 220 pounds, he compares favorably to other similarly sized linebackers who have excelled for their teams, such as Telvin Smith (Jacksonville), Deone Bucannon (Arizona) and Mark Barron (Los Angeles Rams).
”Eric Reid has been put in a linebacker position, not because he can’t play safety,” Shanahan said. “We know he can play safety. It’s because we’re in a situation where we think it could possibly improve our team. That’s what we’re trying to find out now. I think it’s a win-win for him and if he plays at the level he’s capable of it’ll be a win-win for the Niners.”
Reid’s future with the 49ers likely hinges on how he adapts.
Saleh said he would not be surprised if Reid earns the full-time role in the starting lineup at some point soon, as the 49ers seek an upgrade from the inconsistencies of Ray-Ray Armstrong at the weakside linebacker position.
But the 49ers likely already have their starters for next season, with Malcolm Smith expected to return at full strength to pair with middle linebacker Reuben Foster.