Reed runs into safeties' pay ceiling

Commentary

February 11, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

The Ravens have had a discussion with the agents for Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed but have failed to reach common ground to produce a new multiyear contract for one of the NFL's best defensive players.

Reed has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him $2.15 million this season. Most teams prefer to have their star players under contract before they begin their final season, much as the Ravens did last year with Todd Heap, who became the highest-paid tight end in the game.

The sticking point with Reed is that the Ravens want to make him one of the highest-paid safeties, but he wants to be compensated as one of the league's top defensive players. The difference is millions of dollars.

For example, Denver safety John Lynch, still one of the best in the game, will make $2.9 million in 2006, while Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis is expected to make $5.5 million. Top safeties like Roy Williams and Brian Dawkins have the same problem as Reed because teams have devalued the position.

A nickel back makes as much as the No. 2 safety on most rosters. There is little doubt about Reed's impact. He is the Ravens' best defensive player and one of their surest tacklers. He can change the course of a game on special teams by returning punts or blocking them.

With Reed in the lineup, the middle of the field is taken away from most offenses. But under the scenario proposed by the Ravens, Reed would still make less than Lewis, cornerback Chris McAlister and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Reed, though, has little leverage.

The Ravens could designate him the franchise player after the 2006 season, which would force him to make millions less than the asking price of a star defensive player.

"Over the years, we've been able to come to contract agreements with our players that have been fair for the organization and fair for the players," said general manager Ozzie Newsome. "We would like to engage in more conversations with Ed's representatives."

Associates and friends close to Lewis have said that he doesn't want to play in Baltimore for the 2006 season, but Newsome said the linebacker hasn't informed the team of any such intention.

Newsome, though, did admit that Lewis had a recent meeting with team owner Steve Bisciotti in Florida, and said Lewis asked to be traded before the start of the 2005 season. Lewis, a seven-time Pro Bowl performer, went into a self-imposed isolation from the team last season after the Ravens declined to restructure his contract, which still has three years left.

He no longer wanted to be the face of the team, and it has become clear to everyone, except Newsome, that Lewis wants out. League sources have said the Ravens were sending out "feelers" in a possible trade for Lewis, but they haven't gotten more than a second- round draft pick in exchange (note to Ravens: Take it and run).

A team source said Lewis discussed his contract situation with Bisciotti, among other things.

"I was not informed that the issue of the contract came up as a part of that meeting," Newsome said. "Through the years, a number of players have approached me about being traded. That's not unusual. Ray is under contract, and we gave him that contract to retire as a Raven."

The Ravens had interest in re-hiring two former employees, but Phil Savage remained the general manager in Cleveland and Donnie Henderson became the defensive coordinator in Detroit. They would have been great additions for the Ravens.

Henderson was recently fired as the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, and the Ravens approached him about becoming an assistant again. But Henderson, who also was interviewed for the New Orleans head coaching vacancy, stayed on the market for only a short time before joining the Lions. Henderson had a fiery and competitive style but also had a strong rapport with his players. It remains to be seen if Dennis Thurman, the Ravens' secondary coach, can bring discipline to a unit that severely lacked it a season ago.

Savage, the Ravens' former player personnel director, remained in Cleveland after winning a power struggle with Browns president John Collins late in the season. Savage has emerged as a big player in the sweepstakes for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who might become a head coach in the NFL in 2007.

The two remain close friends from their days with the Browns before they moved to Baltimore. If Savage had rejoined the staff in Baltimore, the move might have influenced Ferentz to come here if Brian Billick fails this season. If Browns coach Romeo Crennel continues to falter, look for Savage to try to entice Ferentz to Cleveland.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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