For so long, they had been the two faces of one of the league's most dominant defenses, Ray Lewis the punishing tackler and Ed Reed the unrelenting ball hawk. Now, they are both gone and the mass exodus from the Ravens defense continues.
About six weeks after Lewis retired following his last game as a Raven, Reed moved closer to signing a two-year deal with the Houston Texans, who aggressively pursued the 34-year-old safety over the last week. Terms of the deal aren't known and there are still a few things that have to be worked out, but it's clear that Reed and the organization that he had played with for the last 11 years have parted ways.
"Ed is a great guy and a very good friend," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday night. "We will always appreciate what he accomplished as a Raven. He has a lot of good football left and we wish him all the best."
Reed said repeatedly that he wanted to remain with the Ravens, though he found more money and seemingly more interest elsewhere. The Texans, looking for veteran leadership and a safety to replace Glover Quin, brought him to Houston on their owner's private plane and wooed him over a two-day visit. Reed's agent, David Dunn, reportedly met with Texans officials multiple times during this week's NFL meetings.
The Ravens maintained that they were interested in bringing back the nine-time Pro Bowl selection, and Harbaugh texted with him regularly during the offseason. However, there was no other indication that they were aggressively pursuing re-signing him. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Monday, owner Steve Bisciotti downplayed the notion that the team could ill afford to lose both Lewis and Reed in the same offseason.
"I don't think the same offseason matters much. I don't think losing Ed Reed next year would hurt any worse," he said. "We are in a certain salary cap predicament, we're making commitments to young guys in their second contracts and like [the traded Anquan Boldin], Ed will found out what the market is and he'll communicate to [General Manager Ozzie Newsome] whether he's willing to come back for Ozzie's number or whether he'll get more on the open market, and if the difference is enough that Ed is willing to go to another city at this stage of his career."
Reed becomes the sixth key defensive player to leave the Ravens following their Super Bowl XLVII victory and the seventh starter overall. His departure and the release of Bernard Pollard leave the Ravens without their two starting safeties from last season. They did re-sign veteran James Ihedigbo but have no one else at the position with significant experience. They are planning to bring in former Oakland Raiders safety Michael Huff on a free agent visit over the next few days.
Reed departs after his crowning moment as a player: the Ravens' 34-31 Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. That his first title came in New Orleans, less than a half hour from where he grew up in Louisiana, only added to the moment for Reed.
No Raven appeared to enjoy the victory as much as the enigmatic safety, who spent the victory parade in Baltimore letting the fans touch the Lombardi Trophy and singing Eddie Money's "Two Tickets to Paradise." In the days that followed, Reed participated in a Mardi Gras-themed parade in New Orleans and was a media correspondent for the Academy Awards. He also made it clear that he wanted to return to the Ravens and finish his career in Baltimore, but it was not to be.
"Ed Reed is the greatest safety to play this game," Ravens inside linebacker Jameel McClain said in a text message Wednesday night. "But more importantly he is one of the greatest men I have had the chance to encounter. His presence on and off the field will be missed on the team and in the community."
Reed's loss continues an offseason trend in which the Ravens' roster has gotten considerably younger, cheaper and thinner. Lewis and center Matt Birk have retired. Boldin, a wide receiver, was traded. Guard Bobbie Williams and Pollard were released. Linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams have left in free agency.
Reed started every game for the Ravens this season and finished with four interceptions. He was one of two defensive players (Cary Williams was the other) to play in every game, even though he was dealing with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder. However, Reed was not the playmaker that he had been for most of his career, and his tackling and freelancing hurt the Ravens at times. Reed uncharacteristically admitted that he had lost a step in a candid interview with reporters before the regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Still, Reed, during his time in Baltimore, developed a well-earned reputation as one of the best free safeties to ever play the game. He had five or more interceptions in seven of his 11 NFL seasons, and he led the league twice in that category. He did it by pairing superior athleticism with tremendous instincts and an intense devotion for film study.
Reed, whom the Ravens took with the 24th overall pick in the 2002 draft after he had a standout college career at Miami, was named the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, and he was recognized as a first-team All Pro five times.
His 61 career regular-season interceptions are a franchise high and the most in the NFL since he entered the league. They also put him 10th all-time. Many of the interceptions at home were celebrated with a chant of "REEEEEEEED" by fans.
His 1,541 return yards are an NFL record, and Reed scored 14 touchdowns in his career. He's the only player in league history to score return touchdowns off a punt, blocked punt, interception and fumble recovery. His nine regular-season defensive touchdowns are the most in Ravens history, and his three blocked punt return touchdowns tie an NFL record.
"I'm definitely blessed and humbled to play on the same playing field as a Hall of Famer and one of the greats," Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones said Wednesday. "He really helped me throughout my career to elevate my game to the next level. … He told me he saw flashes in me. He made me believe in myself and my ability. Every week he came and talked to me. He understands every position on the defense. He told me how to study film and what to look for and tendencies. I'm really honored and blessed to have played with him, and he's a lifelong friend."
Few Ravens players would argue. Now, they'll have to confront the reality that Lewis and Reed, the two long-time faces of their vaunted defense, are gone.