The sight couldn't have been easy for Ravens fans: Ed Reed wearing a Houston Texans' hat and later holding up a blue No. 20 jersey.
For Reed, a Raven for 11 seasons and one of the franchise's best ever players, it wasn't an easy decision either. At a news conference Friday in Houston in which he was introduced as the newest Texan, Reed called leaving the Ravens "probably the hardest thing ever in life."
"It's not so much as leaving, because like I said, I'm going to be part of the community, and I'm going to be part of this community. Now, it's my family," Reed said. "It is hard, but like I said, football is a small chapter in our lives. Eleven years is a great book and the way it ended, you can't write a better script. Eventually, we knew Baltimore had to make decisions and they made those decisions."
Now, the 34-year-old moves on, becoming the latest Raven to leave the organization following the team's 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3. Reed is the sixth key defensive player and the seventh starter overall gone from that team, an unprecedented overhaul for a title-winning team.
"Our hope is that the Hall of Fame players we drafted could play their entire careers with us, but we understand why Ed is moving on to the Texans," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "He's not the first Hall of Famer to move to another team. Tony Gonzalez is playing with the Falcons. Joe Montana played with the Chiefs. Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson played for the Ravens. How fortunate we were to have Ed with us for 11 seasons. He is one of the Ravens' and NFL's all-time greats. Words cannot measure what he did for us, including helping us win a second Super Bowl. We thank him for all he did for Baltimore. Ed will always be a part of the Ravens family."
The Ravens maintained that they were interested in bringing Reed back for a 12th season, but they were nowhere near as aggressive as the Texans, who picked up the safety in owner and CEO Bob McNair's plane last week and spent the better part of two days in Houston convincing him to join one of the AFC's elite teams.
Reed said Friday that he knew he'd join the Texans from the first day of free agency when Texans general manager Rick Smith called him. It took a while to work out a deal, but ultimately he finalized a three-year, $15 million contract that includes $5 million in guaranteed money.
Clearly interested in getting younger on defense and still up against the salary cap, the Ravens apparently weren't interested in paying that much to keep the nine-time Pro Bowler and the 2004 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year.
Reed, whose Texans will play the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in the upcoming season, said he spoke this morning to Newsome, owner Steve Bisciotti and exchanged emails with Ravens coach John Harbaugh and senior advisor to player development O.J. Brigance. Reed said he and Brigance will be "brothers for life."
"They taught me well from a player's perspective, from a business perspective and just as a man," Reed said. "When I was in Baltimore, it was all about raising me and not having players come in and out of there. It was about raising men, and there was a reason why it built up to the success. Just everybody who wore purple and black, it was tough [to leave]."
Reed's 61 career regular-season interceptions are a franchise high and 10th all-time in the NFL. His 1,541 interception return yards are an NFL record, and his nine regular-season defensive touchdowns are the most in team history. His crowning achievement as a player came last month when Reed celebrated his first Super Bowl win in New Orleans, less than a half hour from where he grew up in St. Rose, La.
However, as Reed talked about his time with the Ravens, 2002 first-round pick spoke just as much about his off-the-field activities and relationships as he did about on-field accomplishments.
"That's 11 years, just storybook. I'm proud to say that the last game was a Super Bowl in Baltimore," Reed said. "That will never be taken back. I'll always be in that community, and I'm always forever grateful to my fans, to that city, to my neighborhood, my neighbors, to so many people and so many things — Booker T. Washington School, community things that we've done, Stevenson University, just working with those kids and that community. That's what it's about.
"Football is what we do. It's our job, it's a business. But the relationships that I have with people in Baltimore will never change."