Pondering Ed Reed's departure

If you’re trying to figure out exactly what motivated all-time Ravens safety Ed Reed to jump off the Super Bowl bandwagon and sign with the Houston Texans, you should probably consider some other hobby.

Figuring out what makes Reed tick could be a lifelong quest. He’s a complicated guy who doesn’t fit easily into anyone’s preconceived notions about the inner workings of professional football players or, for that matter, superstar athletes of any stripe.

What we do know is that Reed will always be remembered as one of the greatest safeties of all time and he’ll eventually see his name gracing a façade at M&T Bank Stadium. He’ll also be remembered by his teammates as a defensive savant who could outguess some of the smartest quarterbacks of his era and leave helpless offensive players looking for their shoes when he picked off a pass and headed back in their direction.

What we don’t know are all the factors that contributed to his decision to don a different uniform at this stage in his career. It would be easy to just say that the Texans made it clear that they wanted him more than the Ravens did – and that might be true – but this is Ed Reed we’re talking about, so you know it’s not that simple.

It also is routine in these situations to assume that it was just a matter of who ponied up the most money, which is always one of the most important components of any contract negotiation. Reed is near the end of his career, so that last monetary affirmation probably was of some importance, especially after the Ravens largely ignored his overtures for a contract extension over the past couple of years.

The rest is just a matter of speculation, so here’s my take:

Reed has never been far out of the spotlight in Baltimore, but he has always played in the shadow of Ravens icon Ray Lewis. No matter how good Reed was or how many interceptions he rolled up, he was always playing on Ray’s team. It was always Ray and Ed at the heart of the great Ravens defenses. It was never Ed and Ray.

And, as if on cue, when the time came for Reed to finally take part in a successful Super Bowl run, Lewis swooped in after spending half the season on the sidelines to occupy center stage throughout the playoffs. He even used the opportunity to publicly turn “his” team over to quarterback Joe Flacco as he headed into the sunset.

Don’t misunderstand. No one is saying that Reed left because he wasn’t getting enough attention or credit for the Ravens’ success. He clearly had the time of his life during Super Bowl week and will cherish his years in Baltimore. But there is an opportunity in Houston to be that missing piece that helps propel another very good team to the promised land, which would enhance an already terrific Hall of Fame resume and allow Reed to walk away from the game untethered to anyone else’s legacy.

Ravens fans will certainly miss him. So will a lot of us in the local media, who found him forever intriguing even as he held us at arm’s length.

His teammates will miss him most of all, but he may have sensed – quite rightly – that this was the appropriate moment for him to take his leave, both from a personal and team standpoint. The retirement of Lewis and Matt Birk, as well as the departure of Anquan Boldin and Bernard Pollard, signaled a dramatic shift in the makeup and direction of the team.  The Ravens seem to be moving on from the Ray Lewis/Ed Reed era.

Maybe Reed just felt it was time to let that happen.

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