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Ed Reed did not fare well in the court of public opinion last week when he spoke out about his salary, his desire for a new contact, his relationship with the Ravens and assorted other topics. The All-Pro safety took a serious hit from radio talk show callers, Internet posters, newspaper columnists and, well, just about anyone with a blogspot account and an opinion, it seemed. The consensus response: What is he talking about?
In one way, Reed's tough week made it easy for the Ravens. Teams can sometimes get backed into the corner of having to accede to the financial wishes of popular star players, but the public sided with the Ravens, believing that Reed, coming off hip surgery, obviously needs to get healthy and back to his old self before he can start talking about getting a raise.
In another way, though, Reed's tough week put the Ravens in a tricky position. The last thing they can afford to do is dismiss one of their signature players with a wave of the hand, as much of the public did.
In the end, let's not forget, the Ravens want Reed back in uniform and back on the field, making the same magical plays he has always made. They're a better team with him out there – a much better team.
For that to happen, Reed not only needs to get healthier, he also needs to get happier. And the Ravens have to put their collective people skills to work to move that process along. They have to work with him, not against him, as they try to repair whatever damage has been done to their relationship.
Reed is one of the team's most popular players, and immensely respected in the locker room. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis might be the out-front Raven whom everyone sees beating his chest on television every week, but Reed, working quietly behind the scenes, has just as much leadership capital among his teammates.
Make no mistake, the people who look up to Reed – and that's just about every player in the room – are watching this situation closely to see how the Ravens handle it. Can they coax one of their all-time greats off the ledge with dignity?
Some people in the organization might be upset with Reed for calling them out so publicly on so many issues, but if Reed continues to feel he is being disrespected, there could be a problem in the locker room.
Finesse is called for here.
In some ways, Reed's apparent displeasure isn't surprising at all. One of the fundamental truths of life these days is that workers don't always get along with their bosses. No one should be naïve enough to think that all the Ravens are going to be satisfied with the team all the time. The working world just doesn't operate that way.
In other words, Reed is going to have his gripes with management. And whether those are gripes are legitimate or not, the Ravens, if they value Reed as an employee -- which they surely do – need to somehow patch up their relationship while also stressing that they're sticking to their side of the story. That's not so easily done.
But Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said yesterday, as he met with reporters on the eve of the opening of training camp, that the careful hand-holding already had begun.
"When Ed and I spoke on the phone (late last week)," Harbaugh said, "we agreed, 'Let's talk about this stuff one on one.' We'll have a chance to sit down and work out the football part of this when he gets here."
That's what needs to happen. Harbaugh, general managerOzzie Newsome and probably even owner Steve Biscotti* *all need to sit down alone with Reed, hear him out and work through this as calmly as possible, pointing out that their shared top goal for now is just to get Reed healthy, back on the field, and back to his old tricks. At that point, the two sides could possibly sit down and talk about getting Reed a raise.
But long before that ever happens, the Ravens need to handle one of their most beloved all-time players with care.
John Eisenberg covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.