The Ed Reed decision will be costly for the Ravens

March 14, 2013|By Matt Vensel

Ed Reed sure seems to be serious about exploring his options on the open market.

As I write this, the free-agent safety is in Houston, where the Texans have rolled out the red carpet for the likely future Hall-of-Famer. They scooped him up in a private jet and scurried him to Reliant Stadium, where he was greeted by video cameras, microphones and a group of Houston media. Surely, Reed feels wanted right now. And surely, that means something to the 34-year-old, who has always had a sizable chip on his shoulder.

Money will mean something, too, because money often means respect in the NFL. Last offseason, Reed admitted as much, saying “it’s about getting respect and it’s a business.” In that same interview on The Fan, he mentioned the five-year, $96 million contract that the Denver Broncos had just given Peyton Manning.

So how much respect is Reed looking for today?

According to my colleague Aaron Wilson, Reed is looking for $6 million worth of respect a season. And the Texans, who lost starting free safety Glover Quin in free agency, could give him it (or close to it).

Reed could give the Ravens an opportunity to match that offer, but you never know with Reed, who is equally unpredictable off the football field as he is on it. He could decide on his visit to Houston that he wants to retire and join the professional bull riding circuit. But let’s assume that the Ravens would get a chance to match. How much should they be willing to pay to ensure that Reed finishes his career in purple?

One could make the argument that the Ravens owe it to Reed to make it happen considering all that he has given to the organization. Reed is an iconic, game-changing player (and now a champion), though his impact on the outcome of games is probably as minimal as ever. For years, he recklessly threw his body around the field, and the injuries he suffered while doing so explain why he reluctantly throws his body around today.

One could also make the argument that they owe it to the fans to keep Reed, especially with Ray Lewis retiring after the Super Bowl and seemingly every other defensive starter being handed his walking papers. Surely, the Ravens could find it in their hearts -- and in their salary cap structure -- to re-sign Ed Reed.

But if you strip away the nostalgia -- which I know is not easy after seeing Reed dance down the streets of Baltimore with the Lombardi Trophy just a few weeks ago -- giving Reed $6 million a year might not match what he will bring to the table.

Remember, this isn’t about what he has done, but what he will do.

Last season, Reed started all 16 games, made 58 tackles and picked off four passes, bringing his career interception total to 61. He was still a plus defender in coverage, and grades from Pro Football Focus back that up. It’s also fair to point out that star quarterbacks like Manning and New England’s Tom Brady steered clear of Reed in the playoffs. But Reed was a below-average defender against the run in 2012, leading the team with 21 missed tackles, including the playoffs, according to Pro Football Focus.

Common sense suggests that Reed’s range and production will continue to decline as he passes 35. It happens to everyone.

Still, I am already on the record as saying that Reed should have been the team’s top offseason priority behind re-signing quarterback Joe Flacco, and I considered a couple of factors when saying that keeping him was more reasonable than linebackers Dannell Ellerbe or Paul Kruger, who have since signed elsewhere.

The first factor was leadership, as he was just as respected in the locker room as Lewis was and with so many new faces to come on defense, his ability to get everyone lined up before the snap shouldn’t be overlooked.

The other main factor was money. We knew Ellerbe and Kruger were going to get paid. Ellerbe got $7 million a year in Miami and Kruger got about $8 million a year from Cleveland, salaries the Ravens could not match. I figured Reed would command much less and could be re-signed with a reasonable one- or two-year contract.

But if Reed is really looking for $6 million a year, that’s a lot for Reed the player. To keep Reed the icon, the Ravens will have another tough decision to ponder, one I’m thankful Ozzie Newsome must make, not me. Because either way, this decision is going to cost the Ravens one way or another.

Maybe he was just putting on his poker face, but Reed sure sounds like a man who is prepared to move on.

“It's been a great ride," Reed, asked about the possibility of leaving the only NFL team he has played for, told The Houston Chronicle today. "The fan support has been truly amazing, a lot of love and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It's definitely tough, but after 11 years, you pretty much understand things about the business.”

It’s a tough business for both sides of this relationship, which is much more personal than others. If the Ravens hope to keep Reed in Baltimore, they will really have to show him they want him, respect him, and need him.

Just like the Texans are doing at this very moment.

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