What will Ravens do with Reed long term?

The report that Ravens safety Ed Reed wants to play next season is not surprising. The team confirmed that last month at the NFL combine.

The shocking part is Reed thinking he can play four to five more years. This sounds like Reed is giving a subtle nudge to the Ravens as he heads into the final year of his contract.

What will the Ravens do next year when Reed is a free agent? Reed's 2012 season will go a long way in deciding his fate with the team.

His age (he turns 34 when the season begins) and his injury history suggest that a long-term deal is a risky proposition. He has missed 10 games the past three seasons. And while he played a full season last year, it was one of Reed's most disappointing. He finished with three interceptions, his fewest in a 16-game season, and he acknowledged that he missed tackles in four straight games at the end of the season because of a shoulder injury.

Still, Reed is one of the best safeties to ever play in the NFL and can still change games. In the playoff win over Houston, he made an interception because of great anticipation and broke up three other passes. Reed's instincts and awareness have led to 57 interceptions, the most among active players. And, even though he had a bad year statistically last season, his presence in the secondary is the biggest reason why the Ravens allowed an NFL-low 11 passing touchdowns this season (four fewer than any other team).

Reed has hinted about getting an extension in recent years, but he doesn't have an agent listed with the players union. The other problem is if the Ravens want to give a large signing bonus to a player who has been so indecisive about his future. It was only January 2010 when Reed said he was "50-50" about returning. He has been considering retirement every year since the end of the 2008 season because of a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder.

An eight-time Pro Bowl player, Reed is scheduled to make $7.2 million in 2012, the final year of six-year, $44.4 million deal. Along with Reed, Bernard Pollard, the Ravens' other starting safety, is also an unrestricted free agent next year. That could become a predicament for the Ravens, who lost two safeties that they had been grooming (Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura) in free agency this offseason.

The only thing that's clear at this point is Reed's desire to play in 2012 and beyond.

"There's a lot of talk out there. I'm not going to say I'm 50-50, because I'm not," Reed told the Sun-Sentinel in Miami where he was being inducted into the Hurricanes' Hall of Fame. "I want to play football. But it's something me and my team have been discussing the last couple of weeks. My partners, they do a great job of making sure I know the pros and cons of what's going on with my body and with the organization and where we're at. I plan on doing it, but depending, it could change. ...

"If it was up to me, I'd be with a walking cane out there. I don't know, man. I think four to five years is a reality for me."

By this time next year, we'll find out if the Ravens believe Reed can play that long, too.

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