If there was any lingering doubt that Ed Reed was intent about testing the free agent market and leaving the only NFL organization he's ever known, it should have been erased Thursday afternoon when the long-time Ravens safety stepped off a plane adorned with a Houston Texans' logo.
Texans general manager Rick Smith traveled to Atlanta on team chairman and CEO Bob McNair's private plane to pick up Reed at his offseason home and then brought him back to Houston where the unrestricted free agent spent the day at Reliant Stadium, meeting with team officials. All indications were that Reed was extremely impressed by the visit.
While no deal was struck and the cash-challenged Ravens maintain interest in him, Reed was scheduled to have dinner with Texans' coaches and spend the night in the Houston area and seems poised to become the latest member of the Super Bowl XLVII champions to bolt to another team. Reed even talked about the Ravens, who he played with for 11 seasons, in the past tense.
"It has been a great ride," Reed said to a small group of reporters, including one from the Houston Chronicle, after arriving at Reliant Stadium. "The fan support has been truly amazing, a lot of love and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It's definitely tough, but after 11 years, you pretty much understand things about the business. After leaving a program like Miami and being around the great people in Baltimore, I think the transition [to a new team] will be all right."
The Texans, who lost starting safety Glover Quin to the Detroit Lions on Wednesday, rolled out the red carpet for Reed and chronicled his visit on the team's Twitter account as if he was a rock star. The account proclaimed "Wheels up!" when McNair's plane took off for Atlanta and then noted when Reed entered the team offices. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips also took to his Twitter account to say that Reed had stopped by his office for a talk.
"This is classy, man," Reed, a Louisiana native, told reporters. "This is southern hospitality. It's a great feeling."
A source with knowledge of the situation indicated that the Texans have been communicating with the 34-year-old since Tuesday's start of free agency and they were prepared to get close to Reed's asking price, which is believed to be $6 million annually. Contract parameters had already been discussed before Reed arrived Thursday in Houston.
"It's mutual," Reed told reporters early in his visit. "Both of us are contenders and want to get a championship, but we still have some things to work out. Conversations have been great, amazing. We're on the same page as far as what we need to get done."
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who spoke with the franchise leader in interceptions before free agency started to let Reed know where the team stood, did not respond to a request for comment about the situation.
Reed's pending loss would continue a mass exodus from the Ravens since they won their second Super Bowl with a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. Center Matt Birk and middle linebacker Ray Lewis have retired. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded. Guard Bobbie Williams and safety Bernard Pollard were released. Linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams have left in free agency.
All told, the Ravens have lost six starters from the Super Bowl and eight players who started a game at some point during the 2012-13 campaign. And that number could grow with Reed seemingly poised to leave and left tackle Bryant McKinnie and nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu immersed in free agency.
At the season wrap-up news conference last month, Newsome spoke of wanting to make the organization's relationship with Reed "last a bit longer." However, after what has transpired over the past couple of weeks, re-signing the veteran doesn't seem to fit with the Ravens' offseason trend of getting younger and cheaper, particularly on defense.
The loss of Reed, coupled by Lewis' retirement after 17 seasons, would leave the Ravens without the two players who have defined the team's defensive excellence. Reed started every game for the Ravens this past season and finished with four interceptions. However, he was not the big-play threat that the Ravens have grown accustomed to and his tackling issues were problematic at times.
Still, he was one of the team leaders and he had earned his status as one of the best free safeties to ever play the game. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection and former Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, he's had five or more interceptions in seven of his 11 NFL seasons, and his 61 career regular-season interceptions are a franchise high and the most in the NFL since he entered the NFL.
No Raven appeared to enjoy the Super Bowl victory as much as Reed, who celebrated winning his first ring less than a half hour from where he grew up. In the days that followed the win, Reed said that he planned on being a Raven for the rest of his career.
However, from the moment he stepped off McNair's plane today, it became increasingly clear that Reed and the Ravens could be parting ways, perhaps as early as Friday.
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