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Now that the Ravens have addressed the Steve McNair issue, the front office can turn their attention to resuming contract negotiations with Ed Reed. Reed is in the final year of his rookie deal. He has stated that he will not stage a training camp holdout if he doesn’t have a new deal by the end of July.
That said, if Reed’s contract situation is still in limbo by the start of the 2006 season, there is a possible positive or negative trickle down effect that could take place.
On the positive side, Reed will look to prove his worth this upcoming season, and that could lead to Reed having another defensive MVP type season. On the negative side, the money issues could weigh on his mind, and he could lose focus on the field.
Realistically, Reed is a consummate professional, so the contract problem should not affect his ability to focus on the playing field. However, critics of Reed have already questioned his penchant for taking too many chances in coverage in order to make a big-play, and it’s possible that Reed could gamble even more in order to prove a point that he’s still the best at his position.
To that end, Troy Polamalu currently holds the title as the top safety in the game after he helped guide a stingy Pittsburgh defense to a Super Bowl title in Detroit. Like, Reed, Polamalu is in line to get a new contract within a year or two. Reed’s new contract will serve as the blue-print for Polamalu’s deal.
Reed remains the focal point of a Ravens’ defense which appears slightly better than last year’s unit. In fact, depending on what defensive scheme Rex Ryan uses, Reed’s role could expand. He may be asked to line up in various positions all over the field, much like he did in 2003 and 2004. Reed is a good center-fielder, but like Polamalu, he is at his best when he is moved all over the field, and put in positions to blitz or penetrate the backfield. Although the role of thumper and run-stuffer will go to Dwan Landry, B.J. Ward or Gerome Sapp at the strong position, Reed will be in the mix as well.
Since Reed remains such a pivotal cog in Baltimore’s scheme, it is little wonder why he and his agent want him to be paid as one of the best defenders in the game.
On the other hand, the Ravens want to pay Reed as the best safety in the game, which would be a contract in line with what Washington safety Adam Archuleta received in March. Archuleta’s deal is reportedly worth $30 million over six years, with $10 million guaranteed.
Reed wants to be paid as much if not more than Ray Lewis and Champ Bailey, who are currently the highest-paid defensive players in football. Lewis and Bailey both received bonuses worth $19 million. By the same token, Ravens’ cornerback Chris McAlister earned $17.5 million in guaranteed money on a contract extension he signed in the fall of 2004.
Clearly, there is a gulf of money that the two sides are haggling over. Both sides have strong arguments which can be presented to support their sides.
From Baltimore’s standpoint, they would break precedence if they ended up crossing the line to compensate Reed as among the game’s best. The safety position is not considered by many scouts and general managers as among the most critical spots on the defensive side of the ball. Usually corners and pass-rushers are held at a higher premium, followed by great inside linebackers, like Lewis. In the eyes of these experts, good safeties can be found and replaced.
However, there has been resurgence at the position over the years, with versatile playmakers emerging like Polamalu, Reed and Redskins’ safety Sean Taylor. Michael Huff, a defensive back in the same mold as the players mentioned above, was selected by the Oakland Raiders with the seventh pick, and he will be the central piece to their defensive puzzle. These are players who don’t just cause turnovers, help in run-support and make stops in coverage, but they also score touchdowns. A defense can theoretically be built around safeties of this caliber.
In Reed’s case, he is almost as much of an asset on defense as he is on special teams. He is a constant threat to block punts and he occasionally serves as an emergency returner.
It is true that the Baltimore defense can function with Reed out of the lineup. He missed six starts last season and the defensive remained solid for the most part. However, his presence was clearly missed in three of those games – two meetings against the Bengals and against Jacksonville – as the pass defense was shredded, especially down-the-field.
Without Reed in the lineup, offenses can use more play fakes and misdirection to get the safeties out of position to complete passes in the middle of the field. In addition, because Reed has such great instincts and lateral movement, he can help the corners in man-to-man coverage on the outside. He is especially vital in situations when the Ravens need to play bracket coverage against a dominant wideout like Chad Johnson.
Ultimately, Reed and the Ravens need each other, so an agreement will occur in due time. Not only does Reed bring so much to the team on the field, but he is a fan favorite, so if he is not brought back, the Ravens will take a public relations hit. And within the next two years, with veterans like Lewis, Ogden, McNair and Rolle potentially on their way out, Reed will be counted on to serve as the main transitional player between the old age of Ravens football into the new age.
With all those factors in place, Reed must be brought back; even if that means that the Ravens stretch their finances, and create a contract which could alter the spending market at the safety position.