SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Free safety Tre Boston suggested on Thursday it was the change in ownership from Jerry Richardson to David Tepper that allowed him to rejoin the Carolina Panthers after being cut following the 2016 season.
“We all kind of know,” Boston said. “I’m back, so I’m under new management now. I’m happy.”
Boston was outspoken on social injustice following the 2016 shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte, North Carolina police officer. He considered joining then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid in kneeling during the national anthem.
In May of 2017, Boston was released.
Richardson sold the team to Tepper after the 2017 season amid allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior that included sexual harassment and the use of racial slurs.
Tepper allowed the Panthers to sign Reid in September, months after the 2013 Pro Bowl selection filed with the NFL Players Association a grievance against the league. The grievance alleged owners and the league colluded to prevent his employment because of his protests.
“That tells you a lot once you get rid of somebody and bring in a new somebody and then all of sudden things change; people come back,” said Boston, who got a one-year, $3 million deal. “That speaks volumes. That speaks volumes not even to talk about because if happening around here and what’s happening now. I think we like where we’re headed.
“It was an energy where, you know what, I need to get back and be a part of that.”
Boston hasn’t decided whether he will join Reid in kneeling this season. Reid got the full support of Tepper when he kneeled last season.
“That’s up for us to talk about,” Boston said. “That’s up for ownership to let me know how they feel. We talked a little bit about how they respect what [Eric’s] doing. We know where I’ve been with my stances. We’re going to talk about what’s best for everybody. It’s not just about me. It’s about community.”
He became a natural fit for a return to Carolina, looking to solidify the free safety spot coach Ron Rivera hoped to fill with second-year player Rashaan Gaulden. The former Tennessee star worked the past two days as the big nickel back.
“I was always a good fit,” Boston said. “It was never about not being a good fit.”
Boston is confident he can be the “missing link” to a defense in transition from a 4-3 scheme to 3-4, one that has added free agents such as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Bruce Irvin with the hope of returning to a top 10 unit.
“If you look on paper, we could be one of the best,” Boston said of the defense. “I thought they were missing one spot. They thought they were missing one spot, too. They needed a free safety, and that’s what I’ve been doing since I left. I’ve shown the league I’m one of the best, especially getting the ball.
“I don’t plan on slowing down anytime now. I just want to help this team win. We’ve got something to achieve. Some unfinished business for a lot of us.
As for why he was available this late in the year, Boston again hinted at his stance on social injustice.
“Once a guy puts up stats like mine and nobody wants to offer him what he deserves …,” he said. “To me, it was all about going back to my roots, getting back to where people know me. And also getting a little piece of my value. I’m not asking for much. Just a little bit of respect. I’ll earn the rest again.”
Rivera believes Boston is a good fit if the defensive changes result in more pressure on the quarterback after a down 2018 season in which the Panthers finished 27th in sacks.
“Just his playmaking ability,” he said. “If you watch him he’s been one of the more consistent playmaking safeties in the league. If the pass rush develops like we hope, like we think it can, we have a guy that can go out and make a play. He is a ball hawk. His anticipation is even better, almost to the point you think he’s gambling.”
But Rivera stopped short of saying Boston was a missing link.
“There is no missing link,” he said. “At the end of the day he’s going to fit where he fits. I don’t believe in that term. We’ve got a guy and he’s going to play for his worth.”