OWINGS MILLS - Well before the Baltimore Ravens agreed to terms with Michael Huff Wednesday, and well before Huff signed his three-year, $6 million contract with the Ravens Thursday, Baltimore was intrigued by the possibility of a starting safety tandem consisting of Huff and then-Raven Ed Reed.
Rewind to 2006. Reed was one of the premier defensive players in the NFL. Huff, coming off a first-team All-American season at Texas, was viewed as one of the top defensive players available in that year's draft.
Huff ended up being selected by the Oakland Raiders. But seven years later, Reed is entering his first season with the Houston Texans and Huff, after seven seasons with the Raiders, will be saddled with the task of replacing Reed at free safety for the Ravens.
"It feels good," Huff said Thursday. "I talked to [Ravens general manager] Ozzie Newsome. He talked to me and told me how much he liked me coming out [of college]. I said, 'Things didn't work then, but seven years later, at least I'm a Raven.' Everything happens for a reason."
Huff, 30, has never developed into the dominant player that many thought he would become when the Raiders selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, but he's still a productive, experienced and versatile player who has seen time at every position in the secondary - even starting 14 games at cornerback last season because of injuries in the Oakland secondary.
He's also durable - having missed just four games in seven years due to injury.
"That's a testament to the way he is as a professional," Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin said. "I've heard really good things about him. Guys I know [who] have coached him have lots of good things to say about him, not only as a player but as a person. I think that's important when you are coming in here because there is a Raven-way that we do things, and we think he will fit in that mold. ...
"[I'm] looking forward to adding him into the back end so that, as a defense, we can continue to be better - to be the best. That's, I think, our goal. When we sign guys, that is our goal. It's not to fill anybody's shoes, or to do anything like that, but, 'Hey, can this guy help us be the best defense we can be?' That's what we did with Michael."
Huff was a starter each of his seven seasons with the Raiders. He averaged 65 tackles per season in Oakland and had 11 total interceptions, 10 of which came during the last four seasons.
Huff had 71 tackles, two interceptions and a career-high 15 pass deflections at cornerback last season. His best statistical season came in 2010, when he had 94 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. That year, according to Pro Football Focus, Huff graded out as the second-best overall safety in the NFL and the third-best safety in the NFL against the pass.
"He's going to enable us to keep doing the things on defense that we have been doing and even build on those things," Harbaugh said. "I know Teryl [Austin] has a lot of great plans for him in the back end, but you are talking about a great athlete, a guy who was a Top 10 pick, a guy who has played corner, safety, played in the slot, free safety, strong safety. He has done it all, because he is smart, he is tough and he knows how to play the game. We are just thrilled that he is here, thrilled that he is a Raven."
Huff also drew interest from the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers before ultimately joining the Ravens.
Huff's reasoning for deciding on Baltimore: "Defense and just winning."
Said Huff: "At this point in my career, it's not chasing money, it's not chasing things like that. It's chasing that Super Bowl ring ... [and if] you want to [go] and win a Super Bowl, then this is where you want to be."
Huff's decision was also influence by the Ravens' acquisition of Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, who Baltimore signed Tuesday.
"I wanted to be here, especially once they got [Elvis] Dumervil," Huff said. "I said, 'Look at that pass rush with him, [Terrell] Suggs, [Haloti] Ngata, [Chris] Canty, all of them in there.' So, as soon as they got him, I was like, 'Oh yeah, that makes my job a lot easier.' This is where I wanted to be."
And now with the Ravens, Huff will be counted on to fill Reed's vacated spot at free safety.
Reed, of course, spent 11 years at that position for Baltimore, hauling in a franchise-record 61 interceptions and earning nine Pro Bowl selections.
Huff said he texted back and forth with Reed Wednesday night after agreeing to terms with the Ravens earlier in the day.
Said Huff: "He's one of the greatest, if not the greatest, free safety to ever play the game. ... I just told him that I'll carry on his legacy, carry on the tradition of great safeties in Baltimore. I'm definitely going to go out there and hold up my end."