Veteran free safety Ed Reed's disappointing tenure with the Houston Texans officially ended Tuesday when he was released after a spiral that included the former Ravens defensive icon being scratched from the starting lineup and criticizing the Texans' coaching staff.
Reed, the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is now subject to the NFL waiver system after signing a three-year, $15 million contract with the Texans in March that included $5 million in guaranteed money. Reed made nearly $5.5 million while playing seven games where he produced just 16 tackles with no interceptions, pass deflections or forced fumbles and was frequently beaten for big plays.
The Ravens, who drafted Reed in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft, aren't expected to put in a waiver claim on the safety, according to two league sources.
The 35-year-old nine-time Pro Bowl selection is pondering his options, including whether he'll retire, according to a source.
"Can Ed still play? He just can't move the way he used to, and that's why he's not making plays," said former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, an ESPN analyst. "Here's a guy with a Hall of Fame career who won a Super Bowl and is one of the all-time greats, so there's nothing more he can add to his resume. Ed doesn't need to play football.
"Money isn't an issue, so it would serve him no purpose to keep playing. That's when you're disrespecting who he was as a player. If I'm him, I walk away and start my life after football. My advice to him: 'It's time to move on.' It happens to everybody. One more interception or one more tackle won't change how fast you get to the Hall of Fame, Ed.'"
The release came just two days after Reed played only a dozen snaps during a 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday and said the team had been "outplayed and outcoached."
"Eventually they're going to figure out what you're doing if you're doing the same old things," Reed said.
One day later, Reed stood by his words, saying: "I spoke the truth."
Shortly after news broke of his release Tuesday, Reed tweeted: "Thanks to the Texans! And the City of Htown!"
Through his camp, Reed declined to issue a statement.
The Ravens are an unlikely destination considering Reed's age and decline in play. The team also has been encouraged by the play of safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam, who were factors during an overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday where Ihedigbo intercepted two passes and Elam was more active in breaking on the football.
Reed is expected to eventually retire as a member of the Ravens, perhaps signing a one-day ceremonial contract at some point.
The Ravens didn't attempt to retain Reed as a free agent after his six-year, $40 million contract expired in March.
"It's safe to say the Ravens were correct in their assessment of Ed," former Ravens offensive lineman Wally Williams said. "When you reach a certain point, you have to be honest with yourself. As professional athletes, nobody wants to admit when it's over. Ray Lewis' passion and attitude were still there last season, but physically he wasn't competing at the same high level.
"It's hard to admit, 'I can't run with these guys, I can't cover, I can't be the same type of player.' I don't foresee the Ravens trying to bring Ed back. They've moved on and he's moved on. The Ravens will want to bring him back one day and make sure he's recognized. He's earned that respect. Ed played with incredible instincts. Now, he needs to listen to his body and retire."
The New England Patriots have frequently been linked to Reed as have his two former defensive coaches: the Indianapolis Colts' Chuck Pagano — who coached him in Baltimore and recruited him to the University of Miami out of high school in Louisiana — and the New York Jets' Rex Ryan, his former defensive coordinator in Baltimore.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Reed have expressed mutual admiration many times, but Belichick might not want Reed in a complementary role.
When Reed signed with the Texans, it followed an elaborate courtship that included Texans owner Bob McNair bringing him to town on his private jet.
After being signed, Reed had arthroscopic hip surgery to repair a torn labrum. He never seemed to be the same physically and spent training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Reed eventually made his season debut in Week 3 against the Ravens in a 30-9 loss to his former team. Six weeks later, he was benched from the starting lineup and replaced by Shiloh Keo.
Reed recently admitted that he wasn't the same player.
"I'm held to a high standard because of what I've done in the past, but that was the past," Reed said. "I'm a totally different player now. Even when I did go out there, the ball didn't come my way."
Reed intercepted four passes during the regular season last season, and added one during the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers, a game played in New Orleans near his hometown of St. Rose, La. Instead of retiring like his long-time teammate Ray Lewis after the season, Reed continued his career with the Texans.
Any team that claims Reed would owe him $411,000 in remaining base salary this year in addition to a $62,500 per game roster bonus for the remainder of the season. So, he may go unclaimed off waivers.
He's due nonguaranteed base salaries of $4 million in 2014 and $5 million in 2015.
For those reasons and Reed's decline in play, if a team wants him, it's more likely they would work out a veteran minimum contract for this year along with incentive clauses.
Drafted out of the University of Miami, Reed leads all active players with 61 career interceptions.
"Ed was a great football player with special instincts," Johnson said. "Something good always happened for him when he was around the ball."