Ozzie and the Ravens do not shy away from making difficult decision. Two years ago they let go of a slew of good Ravens players, including fan favorites Heap and Mason. Last year they let Jarrett Johnson walk to the Colts. ( I was horrified about this decision, as he was the epitome of playing like a Raven.) And now the Ravens have another difficult decision to make with Ed Reed.
Joe Flacco is going to get paid, no question about it. Whether or not he deserves top tier money may be debatable to some; but not to the Ravens. After years of qb inconsistency and impotent offenses, the front office has to be ecstatic they have found a true offensive leader in their QB. Flacco will get paid top QB money, because he is worth that to his team.
But where does this leave the Ravens? With a slew of unrestricted free agents (Reed, Ellerbe, Kruger, McKinnie, Williams, and many more), and Restricted Free Agents (Pitta, Dickson, Jones, and more), the Ravens have the potential to be in a painful space. And as Ozzie has done before, the decision has to come down to priority. The current incarnation of the Ravens' offense has proven they can score on anyone at will. Denver and the 49ers had top rated defenses. The team scored more than 30 points on both those teams. The offense is no longer an afterthought. with the signing of Ellerbe and Kruger, the defense can continue performing at a high level. especially since Suggs will get a complete off season to get back to his former DPOY health. Webb will be back, hopefully 100% healthy. this all means that the strength of the defense isn't going anywhere.
Where does that leave Reed? He is a hall-of-famer whose best games are behind him. He is injury prone, which means his back up Christian Thompson is prepared to become a starter at any point. While Reed brings incredible leadership to the locker room, Rice, Suggs, andFlacco are more than ready to pick up that mantle. This does not mean that Reed lost all talented . Bellichick would probably sell his children to sign Ed Reed. But does his talent justify such a large hit against the Ravens' already tight cap? Compare him to Derick Mason in this situation. While Mason was never the caliber of player that Reed is, he was important in the development of Flacco and the production of the offense. Like Reed, he was injury prone nad played through multiple injuries. Like Reed he was a fan favorite, and was a key member of the team. Yet the Ravens let him go. Let him go despite the fact he was still producing regularly. Let him go due to cap space. Mason went to the Jets... and did nothing. while part of this was due to the QB, his age and injuries finally caught up with him. Ozzie let him go at the right time. Tod Heap, who is out of the league as well, was let go at the perfect time. Instead of Mason, Ravens now have Boldin. Boldin, who catches the same type of balls that Mason did. Boldin, who has become the go to guy that Mason was. (and who would have been the go to guy earlier if Cameron utilized him better) Boldin, who doesn't get injured. Heap was replaced by Pitta and Dickson. Pitta has Heap's hands with more speed. Dickson, while not quite as reliable, is an excellent blocker. My point is, in both of those positions, the Ravens upgraded by getting younger, while at the same time lessened the cap hit.
So letting Reed walk, while painful, is not unfamiliar territories for the Ravens. While he still has talent, he is on the brink of being finished as a player. The Ravens will survive his exodus, and perhaps will get better.