Holding out is a player's only leverage, says Reed, who will make $7.2 million this year, and he finds it hurtful that fans react by dismissing their former heroes as bitter or out of touch.
Teammates seemed less concerned than anyone, saying they never doubted Reed's commitment. In fact, though Lewis is perceived as the leader of the defense from outside, younger players often describe Reed as the one they seek out for wisdom.
"Ed has been real instrumental in my career, because Ed is actually someone that I really go to," McClain says. "Whatever it is — if it's a coverage aspect, if it's 'What do you think I could have done different in this situation?' Or if it's a home situation, if it's something that's happening with my brother. I have a lot of respect for him."
Billick says he learned to accept Reed's shifting moods and unexpected statements as the price for the safety's equally wild brilliance on the field. It's the same tack the entire organization has taken with him over the years.
Reed replies adamantly when asked if the contract situation or retirement thoughts will nag at him during the season: "No, I'm already in the mindset. I would never have come if I wasn't in the mindset. I would never have reported to camp."
It's hard to get a handle on where Reed stands regarding his future because, as he acknowledges, he answers questions based on the emotions or the physical pain he's feeling at a given moment. Like Lewis, he says he'll know inside when he's finished and that the moment will likely come when he's still good enough to play at a high level.
"I know it ain't far-fetched for me," he says of the end.