OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ed Reed knows he isn’t 24 anymore.
The longtime Ravens free safety arrived a decade ago, sporting cornrows and that famous swagger held by so many stars from the University of Miami. Now, the patches of gray are evident in his hair and a calm, battle-tested confidence oozes with his words.
Asked if he has the same range in the defensive backfield after 11 seasons of terrorizing opposing quarterbacks to the tune of 61 interceptions — the most among active players and 10th in NFL history — the nine-time Pro Bowl selection smiles as he pauses for a moment.
“Sometimes, if I get a good break,” Reed said. “It’s definitely not what it used to be when I was 24 versus [being] 34. But that’s where the mental part comes into it. You slow down physically, but mentally, you get stronger and understand the game a lot more, which allows me to play the game a certain way and understand how to play the game [and] put myself in different situations.”
It’s a tightrope Reed had walked successfully over the last few seasons as injuries took their toll and Father Time ran its course against the future Hall of Fame safety. This season, however, Reed has more often appeared to be recklessly guessing instead of taking calculated gambles, often leaving teammates in difficult positions as he tries to make the game-changing plays for which he’s been known. His declining ability to tackle with a bad shoulder has become an overwhelming liability in many observers’ eyes as they wonder if he’s capable of being an every-down player anymore.
That declining play coupled with an expiring contract make it quite possible — or even likely — that Reed is playing his final days with the only organization he’s known in his NFL career. He’s made no secret in hinting at his desire for a new contract over the last couple years, and his cryptic tactics have worn thin at times.
The Ravens are unlikely to offer Reed a contract anywhere in the stratosphere of the $7.2 million base salary he’s made in the final season of a six-year contract. The most optimistic scenario for a Reed return would likely resemble how general manager Ozzie Newsome handled Ray Lewis’ free agency following the 2008 season in which the linebacker hit the open market before finally seeing the grass wasn’t greener on the other side in terms of dollars. It’s possible that Baltimore will pass completely on the veteran’s services for 2013 and beyond.
But if Reed is preparing for his final regular-season game with the Ravens, he isn’t expressing too much concern as a division title and a first-round home playoff game are in tow. The one accomplishment eluding Reed, a Super Bowl title, is the only vision on Reed’s radar. Where he plays next season will be sorted out at the appropriate time.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Reed said. “My focus is to finish the season off and prepare for the playoffs, and then go from there as far as my future. It’s all about the near-future now. It’s not about the offseason or anything like that.”
If the Ravens elect to move on without Reed, there’s no guarantee he’ll be playing anywhere in 2013 as the physical price Reed has paid over the last five season has been well documented. The 2002 first-round pick has dealt with a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder for the last five seasons and also underwent hip surgery a few years ago.
As recently as this past summer, Reed publicly contemplated retirement while also dropping hints about wanting a new deal, but he offered a similar reply to the one about his contract when asked if he’d consider walking away from the game after the season.
“Not even thinking about that right now, not even talking about it,” Reed said. “It’s not my concern. I know, physically, I feel like I can play. But also, physically, I have concerns about my life after football.”