Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed has come across this offseason as disgruntled, selfish and irrational. Not exactly the resume you want for a player heading into a contract year.
Reed wants more money even though he is making more than most safeties this season. He wants to negotiate a new deal despite not having an agent. He now wants to play four or five more seasons with free agency on the horizon after contemplating retirement every offseason since the end of the 2008 season.
I'm just as confused as the quarterbacks who try to predict what Reed will do on game days. Everyone will learn the extent of Reed's discontent on Wednesday, when he either reports to training camp or holds out (recent history says Reed will be there because his bark has always been worse than his bite).
"I'm sure the Ravens are confident I'll be there for camp, because they know how much I love the game," Reed told CBS Sports last week. "But I'll say this, they're not going to get me for cheap, not a chance.”
The best advice for Reed is to stop talking and start proving you deserve elite safety money. Reed didn't play like Reed last season. Reputation can get you to the Pro Bowl. It won't get you a big-time contract.
Reed has made it repeatedly known that he is unhappy with his current deal, which will pay him $7.2 million this year. That just happens to be more than Troy Polamalu ($6.25 million), Eric Weddle ($5 million) and Eric Berry ($4.8 million) will earn this season. Reed really won't be happy if his next deal fails to average $7 million per season, which could happen based on many factors. Reed will turn 35 in the first year of his new deal. He is coming off a season in which he had three interceptions, his fewest in a 16-game season. Injuries have limited him to one full season over the past three years, and a nerve impingement in his neck has hurt his tackling ability.
Some suggest Reed can affect games by his mere presence because quarterbacks avoid throwing deep. But the numbers in 2011 don't support this. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Ravens gave up 11.4 yards per attempt on passes of at least 15 yards in the air (an increase from 9.9 YPA in 2010) and allowed one 30-yard completion every 7.3 pass attempts (up from one every 10.3 attempts in 2010). Reed may still have the respect of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but he didn't strike the same fear into quarterbacks last season.
Reed will probably consider this as someone attempting to tear him down. This is just the reality of the situation. Reed will long be remembered as one of the best safeties to ever play this game. His 54 interceptions are the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2002. His 1,438 return yards off interceptions ranks second all-time in the NFL behind Rod Woodson. Reed simply wasn't the best safety in the league last season -- and far from it. And this will factor into talks with Baltimore.
Reed's stance is that he won't come cheap. The Ravens' position is they won't overpay players. Baltimore has a history of giving money to players on what they will do in the future and not paying them for their accomplishments in the past. This has led to the Ravens parting ways with their all-time leading rusher (Jamal Lewis), their all-time leading receiver (Derrick Mason), their all-time sacks leader (Peter Boulware) and all-time leading scorer (Matt Stover) over the years. In the Ravens' contract pecking order, Reed ranked behind cornerback Lardarius Webb and running back Ray Rice, both of whom agreed to new deals this offseason, and still sits behind quarterback Joe Flacco.
“The one constant is that we have to make sure that we’re paying for ascending players,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said at the NFL owners meetings three months ago.
Reed is a well-liked teammate. Players, like Webb, look up to him. But Reed hasn't been a team player recently. Unlike Polamalu, who attended offseason practices after the Steelers lost some leaders this offseason, Reed was absent for every workout this spring. He even skipped last month's mandatory minicamp without a phone call to coach John Harbaugh. The other Pro Bowl players on defense, linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, were there. Even linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is out for an extended period after having surgery to repair his Achilles tendon, showed up at the facility.
Being there for three days in a six-month offseason isn't too much to ask of a player who will get $423,529 each week during the regular season. If that wasn't a slap in the face to the team, Reed showed up this month at his youth football camp, which was held three miles from Ravens headquarters (Reed later worked out on his own at the facility later that week). Dean Pees, the Ravens' first-year defensive coordinator, attended Reed's camp as a good gesture.
The Ravens have treated their eight-time Pro Bowl safety fairly over the years. Baltimore made Reed the highest-paid safety in 2006, rewarding him with a six-year, $44.4 million contract when he had a year left on his rookie deal. That occurred when Reed was in the prime of his career.
Reed wants more from the Ravens, and it's up to him to convince the Ravens and the rest of the NFL that he's worth it. His track record says he'll play like an elite safety this year. After a hip injury sidelined him for the first six games of 2010, Reed led the NFL with eight interceptions in 10 games. Last season, when critics talked about Reed slipping as a playmaker, he made a key interception in the playoff win over the Houston Texans and broke up three other passes.
A motivated Reed is a dangerous one. And, for Reed personally, this season is the most pivotal one of his career. He needs to show up for training camp and show up during the season.