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Ravens offseason primer -- safeties

The NFL offseason heats up on Tuesday when the free agency period begins and the NFL draft will take place next month. In anticipation of those events, blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will look at six key positions the Ravens might address in free agency and the NFL draft in the days leading up to the start of free agency.

The Ravens are heading into life without inside linebacker Ray Lewis, but they must also prepare for life without free safety Ed Reed, who is also expected to be patrolling the halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.

Reed is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He has also considered retirement during the past three offseasons. Plus, he doesn’t have an agent and has spoken openly about possibly playing in New England, for noted Reed fan Bill Belichick, or in Indianapolis, for former coordinator Chuck Pagano. Then again, he has also been outspoken his desire to remain a Raven. So if you know what Reed is going to do, that makes one of us.

But regardless of whether Reed returns, the Ravens will likely look for a long-term replacement in April’s NFL draft. Depth is also needed at both safety spots, as James Ihedigbo and Sean Considine are also free agents.

Where they stand: Bernard Pollard is the only regular currently under contract. Second-year player Omar Brown is under contract, too. But with three unrestricted free agents at safety, the Ravens must retool at the position, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as they ranked 17th in pass defense. Ihedigbo and Considine were important parts of the special teams unit, but they are not starting-caliber and each is approaching 30.

Who’s out there: If the Ravens feel like spending on a new safety and can create enough cap space, there are some quality safeties in free agency besides Reed, led by San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Detroit's Louis Delmas. Green Bay's Charles Woodson, Houston's Glover Quin, and New York's LaRon Landry will also reach free agency. The draft also has some nice options at the safety position, led by Kenny Vaccaro, but the Texas standout is expected to be long gone by pick No. 32. Other options in the draft include Florida's Matt Elam, LSU's Eric Reid, South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger, and Georgia's Bacarri Rambo.

Stat that stands out: six -- plays in which Reed was targeted in pass coverage during the playoffs, according to Pro Football Focus. He is often criticized for his declining play, particularly when it comes to tackling the guy with the ball, but Reed is still a plus player in coverage. No, he is not the same player he was when he was 24, but at 34, quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were still trying to avoid throwing it his way.

What they might do: It would make sense if the Ravens could keep Reed with an affordable one- or two-year deal possibly sweetened with incentives. But if Reed is, as expected, allowed to dip his toe in the free-agent waters, he might make a splash by signing the Patriots, Colts or another team. The team could bring back Ihedigbo, Considine or both players. But even if they do, they need to get younger and more athletic at this position in the draft, perhaps taking two safeties like they did in 2008 with Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura.

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