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Independent, unique Ed Reed ready to join Ravens Ring of Honor

Sure, Ed Reed says, he likes being honored.

But, much as he used to pop up in unexpected places to snatch interceptions, the former Ravens great comes at the subject from an oblique angle.

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Asked what he might reflect upon when he becomes the ninth Raven inducted into the franchise's Ring of Honor on Sunday, Reed does not mention his record 107-yard interception return from 2008 or the pass he picked off in Super Bowl XLVII, his last game as a Raven.

Instead, he goes back to his rookie season in Baltimore and his decision to switch … financial advisers? As with many of the things Reed says, there is a powerful roundabout logic to this.

He figures he never could have done his job so well on the field had he been fretting about the security of his affairs off it. And his financial gurus, Brad Davis and Brad Schwartz, along with Glenn Younes, who'd ultimately head Reed's charitable foundation, became some of his best friends to boot. Every Monday during the season, they'd meet at his house to play poker, watch that night's game and break down film for the week ahead.

So Reed, 37, will be thinking of them, along with his teammates and family, as he soaks in the cheers at halftime of Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.

"Anytime you're honored in any degree, you think about the people who helped you get there," he said. "That's the best thing about it. You reflect on the people who held you together when things were rough and on the good times as well. There were a lot of good times."

No doubt. As a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time first-team All-Pro, Reed forged a legacy as perhaps the most feared big-play safety in league history. If he was ever taken for granted while he was here, subsequent events have showed how unusual he was.

The 2015 Ravens have intercepted four passes total in nine games. Reed once picked off 10 in a seven-game stretch. Attempts to draft his replacement — most notably 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam — have been for naught.

John Harbaugh, who was a defensive backs coach before he came to the Ravens, said he always revered Reed as a unique force, even if the two needed time to build a mutual understanding.

"I always knew it," Harbaugh said. "I knew what kind of player he was when I was coaching in Philadelphia and playing against him on special teams. It has not changed from the first day you saw Ed Reed."

Reed was never the outward face of the Ravens, not with fellow Miami product Ray Lewis dancing and barking inspiration in front of the cameras. Fact is, Reed never wanted that kind of attention. He could be as vexing and elusive a figure for reporters as he was for opposing quarterbacks.

But inside the locker room, he was at least as central a figure as Lewis — always available to counsel a younger teammate on managing injuries or interpreting game film. When the Ravens' 2012 season seemed in danger of careening off course, Reed helped lead the team through a candid meeting with Harbaugh.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb, now the dean of the team's secondary, first approached Reed as a starry-eyed rookie in 2009. He quickly discovered the Platonic ideal of a safety who was also a regular dude who'd readily share his film study with an unknown from Nicholls State.

"I couldn't believe this guy that I loved was actually a cool guy," Webb said, noting the horror stories he has heard from others who met superstars they'd idolized. "Ed was just always there for you, even if you were just a free agent or a guy who came in on the practice squad. If you sat down and talked to him, he'd talk to that guy just like it was Haloti [Ngata] or [Terrell Suggs]. That's Ed Reed, man."

They still talk all the time. Webb is one of a stable of players Reed mentors or as he terms it, "coaching from afar."

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"He's just a real good friend to me, man, like a big brother," Webb said. "He keeps me in line. He's been through it all — the injuries, the down season, the great season. The best guys to talk to are the guys who've been through all the trials and tribulations. You will feel better when you get off the phone with Ed Reed, no matter what you talked to him about."

Reed is a man of deep faith and said God could not have placed him in a better setting than Baltimore. He doesn't live in the city anymore but said he's still in town every few weeks. His foundation supports the SEED School of Maryland and Booker T. Washington Middle School, where he'll be dispensing Thanksgiving turkeys Tuesday. On Saturday starting at 10 a.m., Reed will help hand out thousands of pounds of fresh produce at New Hope Academy in West Baltimore as part of his relationship with Tessemae's salad dressing.

"It couldn't have ended up any more perfectly in Baltimore, winning the Super Bowl," Reed said. "Outside of the year after that, being a free agent, all that jazz. That's just business. But everything in between that, from 2002 to 2013, it was perfect. It was absolutely perfect. It couldn't have gone any other way."

Reed was often banged up in the last years of his career, and he was always cognizant of walking away before he crippled himself. But he harbors no regrets. He said so last weekend on a "60 Minutes" segment about head injuries.

The streaks of gray in his hair have become more pronounced, but he feels pretty spry. In fact, Reed said he avoids working out too hard, lest he start thinking it might be a good idea to get back on the field.

"It reminds me and lets me know, dude, you could still do this," he said. "And I probably shouldn't."

But you can tell he was irritated by the people who dinged him for losing a step or not hitting as fiercely in his last few seasons.

"It's just that you don't want Ed's 100 percent," he said. "You want that 120 percent that he's showed he can reach in the past. Because I could still play 100 percent today. But you don't want to see Ed's 100 percent. So you get the owners and the fans saying he lost a step. Well, no he didn't. No he didn't."

But the fire quickly fades from his voice as he describes the contentment of retired life — hanging out with his son, playing golf, filming segments for "Inside the NFL" on Showtime. In a recent week, he attended the first-round playoff game of Destrehan High School, his alma mater in Louisiana, and spoke to a Christian academy in Georgia where former Miami teammate Andre King coaches.

"It's just a good deal right now, honestly," he said. "It's good just to be able to do some normal stuff."

Reed has made no secret that coaching might be his next major project. Earlier this year, he said he'd pick up the phone if Miami called about its vacancy. But the truth is he hasn't figured out which level would be the best fit.

He sounds wary of the NFL's organizational politics and 100-hour work weeks.

"Being that I was a player and I studied the game the way I studied it, I don't feel like it might take as long as it does for certain coaches," he said, breaking into a cackle.

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He loves high school kids, because they're still unformed, and they listen. He leaned heavily on coaches and mentors in his own school days, so he knows how important they can be. But Webb said he believes Reed's football sophistication might be wasted at that level.

So perhaps college, where the coach is often both a football expert and a secondary parent?

"He can do anything he wants to do — coaching-wise or whatever kind of other thing he wanted to get into," Harbaugh said. "We've talked about it, as far as his interest in coaching, and I know he's interested in it."

Harbaugh laughed, recalling a conversation in which Reed expressed frustration with the youth league team he was coaching. Perhaps a bit of karmic justice for a player who sometimes gave coaches ulcers with his, um, independence?

"Which I thought was kind of cool, like the parenting 'You get what you deserve' kind of deal," Harbaugh said, grinning. "It was good."

It's a real question though. Would Reed's unique personality and fearlessness make him an unpalatable hire in a sport that leans to conservatism?

"I'm sure any organization might say something about it, like we have to be mindful of what we say," Reed acknowledged. "But I know how business works. It's different when you're a coach versus a player. I'm not ignorant to that."

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