Ed Reed's homecoming brings mixed emotions

There's no question that safety Ed Reed has a permanent place in Baltimore Ravens history. He is the third-best player to ever wear purple in Baltimore, right behind Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden.

Whether Reed has a special place in all of the Ravens' hearts like Ogden and Lewis -- that's a different story. He gave the Ravens organization headaches over his 11 seasons in Baltimore, although he always gave opposing quarterbacks 10 times more.

Reed, who is coming back to Baltimore for the first time since signing with the Houston Texans in free agency, will be revered for his game-changing plays and how he forced offenses to totally change their game plans because of him. Players and coaches would sometimes look at Reed in awe because they knew they were watching the one of the greatest safeties in NFL history at work.

He was an influential leader for the Ravens. He was a trusted big brother. But Reed was also a loose cannon, which made him great as well as frustrating. No one knew where Reed would pop up on the field, and that included quarterbacks and teammates alike. Reed trusted his instincts over the defensive game plan at times, which made him dangerous and unpredictable.

Nobody in the Ravens organization will speak one disparaging word about Reed because they've given him the respect that sometimes wasn't returned.

A year and a half ago Reed called out Joe Flacco in the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game. Reed described Flacco as "kind of rattled" a day after the AFC divisional playoff win over Houston and said the quarterback didn't have "a hold on the offense."

In June 2012, Reed was the only player who didn't show up for mandatory minicamp. If that wasn't a big enough slap in the face, Reed never called coach John Harbaugh to explain why he skipped it. Reed tweeted a few weeks later that he was doing yardwork, writing "Tell the bosses I'm comfortable!"

Last October, Reed was among the dissenting voices when Harbaugh announced the team was going to have a full-contact practice during the bye week.

Reed isn't a bad guy. Not even close. He's a mercurial one. And no one can argue with his results. Reed is a nine-time Pro Bowl player. He was the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the first safety in 20 years to win the award. He led the league in interceptions for three seasons, and he holds the NFL record for most career interception return yards (1,541) and longest interception return (108 yards).

This legacy makes the reunion unlike any other. Sure, the Ravens have played former teammates like pass-rusher Paul Kruger on Sunday. This is different because of what Reed represents.

The Ravens never had to play Lewis or Ogden. The organization made sure they were Ravens for life. But, when Reed hit the open market, the Ravens didn't match the Texans' three-year, $15 million contract that included $6 million guaranteed.

"I think it's strange just because everybody views him as a Raven," Flacco said. "The fact of the matter is that I knew Ed Reed as a Baltimore Raven before I started playing on the Baltimore Ravens. So, it makes it a little bit different. It kind of makes him a little bit more than a teammate of mine. At one point, I was a fan of his. That's what makes it different for everybody around Baltimore and everybody around the country is that they know him as a Baltimore Raven."

Reed was as big of a leader as Lewis. He just did it behind the scenes. He invited the defensive backs to his home, where they broke down film and played video games.

His commitment to the community was just as strong. He adopted an inner-city middle school soon after arriving in Baltimore in 2002, and he would appear unannounced on Tuesday, his day off, to talk to the kids about respecting elders, eating right and staying out of trouble.

When Reed signed with the Texans, he took out a full-page ad in The Baltimore Sun. "My eleven seasons in Baltimore were more than I would have ever imagined, which is why I have such deep love for you all," Reed wrote.

"Reed is like a big brother to me," said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who still texts back and forth with Reed. "He's a guy that I respected long before I became a Raven, and I've grown closer to him since I've been in the league."

Smith added, "He's one of the best safeties ever, and he still plays at a very high level. There's definitely something special about Reed, and we know as receivers, we're going to have to be on our p's and q's because he guesses right a lot of time, and we can't just give him anything."

There is a question whether Reed will play against the Ravens. He's missed the first two games with a surgically repaired hip and was limited in practice Wednesday. Nearly every one of the Ravens players said Wednesday they believe Reed will suit up Sunday, although defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said he hopes Reed doesn't.

Does Reed know Flacco better than any safety in the league?

"I don't know," Flacco said. "I'm sure he'd tell you he probably does."

This isn't the type of reunion that many had envisioned with Reed. When the team's all-time greats return like Lewis and Ogden, it's to be inducted into the Ring of Honor, not standing on the other sideline. But, as the Ravens found out after a decade with Reed, you could never predict what's going to happen with him.

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