The central storyline of the upcoming Super Bowl for the Baltimore Ravens will focus on the impending retirement of future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.
However, Lewis may not be alone among legendary Ravens defenders taking a final lap for Baltimore. On Super Bowl Sunday, another former Miami Hurricane and future Hall of Famer may also be making his final appearance in Raven purple, white and black. While ball hawking safety Ed Reed is not as synonymous with the 17-year-old Ravens franchise as Lewis, he’s just inches behind in the hearts of fans. While Ray Lewis defended the ground, Reed patrolled Baltimore’s skies.
Reed is one of the most feared secondary defenders in league history because of his nose for the ball and the end zone. Three times Reed has led the NFL in interceptions and in 2008, Reed set the NFL record for the longest return in NFL history. He also has scored a total of 13 defensive or special teams touchdowns in his career. In 2008, Reed led the NFL in interceptions despite playing in just 10 games.
Despite rumors that Reed would retire after the season, Reed has dismissed those rumors by claiming that he will return after the season. However, Reed is an unrestricted free agent after the season and Baltimore may not want to dish out the cash that he has been requesting since 2011. With those facts in mind, speculation is running rampant that Reed will test the free agent market rather than return to Baltimore at a reduced rate. Here are three franchises that will have the most interest in Reed.
Denver Broncos - The Broncos are intriguing. They will have a reasonable amount of cap space to maneuver around and a team ready to win now. The young free safety they drafted in 2011 became the goat of the season by going for the interception instead of knocking down Flacco’s now infamous game-saving pass in the divisional round. However, he is one of the more efficient tacklers at the safety position, whatever that is worth.
Indianapolis Colts - The Colts have approximately $46 million in cap space and a hole in their secondary. Signing with the Colts would reunite Reed with former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and Miami Hurricanes defensive backs coach, Chuck Pagano.
Washington Redskins – The Skins are $4 million over the cap and would have rather position 6’5 Madea at free safety than 2012 starter Madieu Williams. One of the league’s worst secondaries improved slightly over the course of the season and Ed Reed is just down The Beltway. However, the Skins are in the midst of a youth movement and will have another $10 million docked from their salary cap because of the penalties they incurred for salary dumping during the 2010 cap-less season.
New England Patriots – Reed defecting to Darth Hoodie’s sideline would be akin to Damon signing with the Red Sox, Ruth being traded to the Yankees or Anakin joining the Dark Side. Aside from the Manning brothers, Brady’s greatest nemesis has been Reed. Ed Reed was meant to bring balance to the AFC force, not plunge it into darkness. The Patriots have a boatload of cash to throw around this offseason and starting free safety Patrick Chung has failed to build upon the promise he flashed early in his career and was replaced by Devin McCourty during the season. On the other hand, the Pats are notoriously frugal.
Dallas Cowboys – Once again, the Cowboys have all the pieces to make a Super Bowl run. And there are approximately 600 documented UFO sightings per year. The NFL community will have to see it to believe it. Not only did the Cowboys secondary lack the ability to produce turnovers but they were also 19th in yards allowed. At the Senior Bowl, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett confessed that the lack of turnovers during the Rob Ryan era led to the outspoken defensive coordinator’s ouster.
The Cowboys recorded a league-low seven interceptions and in Week 16, struggling free safety Danny McCray was replaced with nomad Eric Frampton, who has yet to record an interception in his NFL career. Signing Reed would assuage some of those concerns at safety.
Jerry Jones loves to go for the big splash and more importantly he has a history of atoning for past mistakes. After ignominiously passing over Randy Moss in ’98 over character concerns, Jones has thrown his full support behind third-year wideout Dez Bryant and reaped the benefits. Likewise, Jones tepidly pursued Ray Lewis in 2009 and undoubtedly has him regretting not stealing Lewis from Baltimore. Reed is an even better fit schematically than Lewis was four years ago.
Reed is only two three years younger than Lewis but the Cowboys championship window is as ajar as Reed’s window as an elite safety is. Plus, with newly-hired defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin barking orders at 72, everyone on the Cowboys defense should feel a decade older next season.
The Cowboys will be penalized another $5 million next season and are in a tight cap situation but some payroll reshuffling could leave the Boys room to fit Reed into their lineup.
Next season, the most dangerous defensive back since Neon Deion high-stepped into end zones, will either play as decrepitly as his gray hair suggests or provide an infusion of talent in the secondary. Judging by the inflated contracts Jerry Jones has a penchant for dishing out, what’s one more risky bet?