After a brilliant 11-year run that finally culminated with his first Super Bowl title in February, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is leaving the Baltimore Ravens to join the Houston Texans.
One of the best players in franchise history, Reed has agreed to a three-year contract to join Houston, leaving behind a legacy in Baltimore that included nine Pro Bowl selections and the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. The decision comes almost a week after Reed was courted by the Texans in a full-court press of wining and dining.
Reed traveled to Houston after being picked up from his Atlanta home in Texas owner Bob McNair’s private jet, an unprecedented move in that organization’s history of courting free agents. The veteran safety met with team officials and coaches before leaving Houston without a contract despite numerous reports that a deal would be finalized last Friday.
After the temporary hiccup in the Texans’ bid to bring Reed to Houston, general manager Rick Smith continued to negotiate with agent David Dunn at the league meetings in Phoenix this week. Meanwhile, the Ravens continued to wait out the process as reports came out about Houston’s offer. Owner Steve Bisciotti and coach John Harbaugh both expressed optimism earlier this week that Reed would remain with the Ravens.
The Ravens’ first-round pick in the 2002 draft expressed his desire to finish his career where it started, but the sides did not agree on fair compensation for the 34-year-old’s services as Baltimore gave no indication of matching the $4 million per year the Texans were offering. Aside from remaining in touch with Reed throughout the process, the Ravens never jumped into a bidding war for the longtime safety’s services as it became increasingly clear Reed would need to take less money to remain in Baltimore.
Reed cited Houston’s proximity to his home state of Louisiana has a plus in making a potential decision to leave the only franchise he’s known as a professional. The Ravens and Texans are scheduled to play in Baltimore during the 2013 regular season.
The free-agent loss of the ball-hawking safety is especially difficult for Baltimore fans with the retirement of inside linebacker Ray Lewis after the Ravens’ 34-31 win in Super Bowl XLVII. Many hoped Reed might follow Lewis into retirement after tasting championship glory for the first time in his brilliant career, but the former University of Miami star made it known he had more football to play in his career.
“I always said when I came into the league and got drafted that I didn’t want to be one of those guys jumping from team to team,” Reed said in New Orleans prior to the Super Bowl. “If it was up to me, I would be right in Baltimore. If it happens to be somewhere else, I can play football on the moon.”
Instead, he’ll play in a city famous for facilitating lunar missions as Reed will attempt to push Houston over the divisional-round mountain they’ve been unable to climb in the last two seasons. Those postseason failures included a 20-13 loss in Baltimore to end the Texans’ 2011 season.
General manager Ozzie Newsome addressed Reed’s future at the Ravens’ end-of-season press conference by acknowledging there would likely be opportunities on the open market as his six-year, $44.5 million. Further complicating matters at the time was Reed’s lack of an agent, but Dunn was hired to represent him before the start of free agency, a surefire sign that the longtime Ravens was poised to depart for the right deal.
“I think he realizes there may be some other options out there, but I think if you watched him and watched his body language over the course of the last eight to 10 days, that he loves being here in Baltimore,” Newsome said on Feb. 7. “I think we can use that to help make that relationship last a little bit longer.”
In recent years, Reed’s performance has declined due to a nerve impingement in his shoulder and neck suffered at the end of the 2007 season as well as various other ailments, but opposing quarterbacks continued to account for the free safety on every play. Reed’s tackling ability appeared to decline rapidly over the last couple seasons to the point of some wondering how much longer he can stand to be an every-down player, but his ability in pass coverage remains steady.
Reed has hinted at retirement on a few occasions over the last few offseasons while also dropping cryptic hints that he was dissatisfied with his current. However, Newsome and the Ravens would simply bite their tongue, knowing the mercurial safety would report to training camp. In his final season with the Ravens, Reed skipped a mandatory minicamp in the spring before ultimately reporting on time for camp in late July.
Despite the appearance of that rift, Harbaugh expressed Tuesday how much his relationship had grown with Reed in what would prove to be their last season together.
“He was a great leader. Our relationship has just blossomed,” said Harbaugh, who has exchanged text messages with Reed during the offseason. “It’s been good, but this year with Ed especially, we really just got close. The leadership he brought to the team through [the Ray Lewis injury] was really fantastic.”
Through his various physical challenges, Reed played in all 16 regular-season games in each of the last two seasons.
In 11 seasons in Baltimore, Reed tallied 61 interceptions, a franchise record and the most in the NFL since his 2002 rookie season. In addition to being the NFL’s active leader in interceptions – ranked 10th all-time — Reed has an NFL-record 1,541 interception return yards in his career.
In his younger days, Reed was the most dangerous punt blocker in the league and considered the Ravens’ biggest playmaker when his hands touched the football. He is the only player in NFL history to return scores off a blocked punt, interception, punt return, and fumble recovery. Counting the postseason, Reed has scored a remarkable 14 touchdowns in his career.