“It doesn’t mean he wasn’t feeling certain ways,” France said. “My way in advising him was let’s not give the team any reason not to take care of you. We didn’t want to rub any person the wrong way and that was our game plan the entire time.”
And that’s the perfect message for Reed to hear and to follow after an offseason of head-scratching comments and veiled threats of holding out.
Currently without an agent, Reed would not only benefit from an experienced advocate to engage in contract talks — even if they don’t come until after the season — but also the advice of how to handle his frustration. Frankly, Reed needs someone to handle the dirty work as France did behind closed doors while Rice remained more amicable.
Setting aside Reed’s erratic comments throughout the offseason, the Ravens are faced with a difficult decision in what to do with the free safety. Reed is clearly moving toward the end of his career but is still regarded as one of the best safeties in the game.
On top of that, the Ravens are without an appealing prospect to take his place. Fourth-round draft choice Christian Thompson is the only viable option for the future that’s currently on the roster, and the rookie safety from an FCS school has never taken a snap in the NFL.
A well-behaved Reed focused on proving he can still play at a high level in 2012 would be difficult to walk away from, but a disenchanted defensive back playing mind games is much easier to wave goodbye to after the season.
As the Ravens proved with former cornerback Chris McAlister in Harbaugh’s first season as head coach, they’ll only put up with a player’s baggage as long as they feel his production is worth it.
The best way Reed can prove to the Ravens that they still need him after 2012 is to show up to camp on time and be the same professional he’s largely been over the last 10 seasons.
While a lucrative contract just isn’t in the cards for a safety who will be 34 and has a chronic neck and shoulder issue, the Ravens could give Reed similar treatment to how they handled Ray Lewis following the 2008 season. Newsome allowed the inside linebacker to explore the market to see what he was worth before the future Hall of Famer realized the Ravens valued him more than any other team.
The Ravens welcomed Lewis back with open arms and a fair contract, because they felt he was still worth it.
If Reed desires a similar fate — or wants to create the best market he can for himself next offseason — he should heed the example of his younger teammate Rice, who handled the franchise tag and the negotiations that followed in a way that created no hard feelings or animosity between the sides.
Otherwise, the future Hall of Fame safety is only making a difficult decision much easier for the Ravens after the season.
And it would likely result in a bitter divorce between a player and a team who have been great to each other for over a decade.