John Eisenberg: A Big Decision Coming With Ed Reed


PLEASE NOTE:The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.


That's why they probably were OK with re-signing Jameel McClain, 27, instead of Jarret Johnson, 30, out of their two free agent starting linebackers.

That's why they kept franchise-tagging Terrell Suggs until they finally locked him up to a six-year deal in 2009 – he was just 26 years old. Same with Haloti Ngata, who signed at 27 last fall.

Put your money in ascending players. That's why the team parted ways with Todd Heap and Derrick Mason before last season and seemingly undertakes a round of painful divorces with veterans every year. Talented they are, but ascending they are not.

Some other teams do the same, their hands forced by the cold-hearted confines of the cap. Why do you think the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning had to split up after 14 years? Neither side wanted it, but to consistently compete under the cap, you have to pay younger guys.

The Ravens surely followed that with interest, because around the same time Bisciotti was explaining so much about how his team operates, a potentially tricky situation arose that could produce sleepless nights in his front office: As he was being inducted into the University of Miami's Hall of Fame last week, safety Ed Reed told a reporter that playing four or five more years "is a reality for me."

Huh? Four or five more years? For a guy who is 33 and has battled numerous injuries in recent years? A guy who said he was 50-50 about coming back … two years ago?

"I want to play football," Reed declared. "I'd be with a walking cane out there."

His enthusiasm was good news, of course, if somewhat surprising; just months ago Reed said "I'm getting old" after a playoff win.

He wasn't old when the Ravens secured his service with a lengthy contract in 2006; Reed was 27 when he signed, still an ascending player.

But he will be 34, no longer ascending, when that contract expires after next season.

Reed is one of the Ravens' greatest stars ever, an iconic defensive playmaker almost surely headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has anchored the back of the defense for a decade, won games singlehandedly. His contributions to the franchise are greater than almost anyone's.

But he will be 35 if and when he starts playing under a new contract in 2013, and he's not going to pay for pennies.

Should the Ravens bow to his history with the franchise, ignore their policy about paying ascending players and make sure he retires a Raven, provided he can still perform at an acceptable level? Or does the cap force them to make the toughest of calls?

They don't have to decide now, and there's no doubt they want to keep Reed in purple until his career ends, but with the cap in play, romance often takes a back seat, as it did in Indy with Manning.

It could be there's some common ground, some wiggle room. Reed could help out the cap-strapped Ravens now by agreeing to defer some 2012 salary in exchange for extending his deal a year or two.

But absent something along those lines, he is going to play another year and then everyone will take a deep breath and look at each other and decide what to do – a wrenching time for all involved, no doubt.

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