The off-season always brings a lot of speculation. Trade rumors, scandals, and potential retirement announcements. For the past couple of seasons now, the Baltimore Ravens have had a couple of defensive stars with questions surrounding them about how much more they may "left in the tank".
Both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two staples of the Ravens’ defense, have both been in the NFL for years and years. As two of the top players at their respective positions each season, and at their-let’s say-somewhat advanced age, each off-season brings about the speculation of whether or not one or both of them will call it a day and move on from football.
In case you missed it, some good news for Ravens fans came this week when Ed Reed announced that he will be gearing up to play next season, his 11th season as a pro. Reed spoke with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel this past Thursday at the University of Miami Hall of Fame induction ceremony where both he and Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie were inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame:
"There's a lot of talk out there. I'm not going to say I'm 50-50, because I'm not. 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."
Reed is consistently one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL year in and year out, and even though he has been playing with numerous injuries for several seasons now, a hobbled Reed is still more effective than most, if not all, safeties around the NFL.
(The Ravens have solid starters at both Strong and Free safety heading into next season but, after the "Jump", see what the team will have to do in order to build depth in the back field)
While Reed believes that his body could hold up for possibly another 5 or more seasons of full-time, sometimes brutal NFL play, the Ravens should now begin looking for his eventual heir.
Both Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura moved on to new franchises this off-season leaving the Ravens very thin behind incumbent starters Reed and Pollard, and though they signed free agent safety Sean Considine to a 1-year contract, his addition is thought of more as a move to bolster a special teams unit in dire need of repair.
Unfortunately for the Ravens and their fans, Reed can’t ever be "replaced". Much like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed is a very special, once-in-a-lifetime player that isn’t just simply a roster spot. For years, Reed has terrorized NFL quarterbacks and even at 33 years old, he continues to play some of the best football ever seen in history.
The Ravens will have several options this off-season to rebuild some depth at both safety positions, mostly through the draft. Alabama’s Mark Barron is projected as a late-1st round pick that could very well be available when the Ravens are on the clock. With his versatility to play at both safety positions and his above average "ball-hawking" skills, the Ravens could be inclined to take a prospect like Barron in the late 1st with the expectation that he will sit for most of next season to learn the defensive system and pick up pointers from one of the best safeties to ever grace a football field.
For a team like the Ravens with very few roster holes to plug up and primed for another run at the playoffs, they could perhaps afford to select a player in the 1st round that might not see a lot of playing time immediately, but will rather be a solid addition to fulfill the team’s needs of the future. It should also be noted that strong safety Bernard Pollard will become a free agent after next season which should also factor into the Ravens’ need and desire to begin rebuilding parts of their defensive backfield.
Surely, the Ravens will begin filling the spots left behind by Zbikowski and Nakamura, but nonetheless, the news that Ed Reed is planning to return for the upcoming season and perhaps several seasons beyond that is fantastic to hear. As an integral part of the Ravens’ defensive game-plan each season, Reed’s decision to return is great news for Ravens faithful everywhere.