Ed Reed should've hung 'em up with his Baltimore Ravens road dog Ray Lewis after that miraculous Super Bowl last season . He had nothing left to prove.
Instead of being forced into retirement by the Ravens, he chose to bounce and keep the Patron flowing with the Houston Texans, inking a deal for three-years, $15 million. Reed hoped to ride the wave of a promising team with Super Bowl aspirations. In many people’s eyes, it was a typical case of the old warrior refusing to bow down gracefully to the inevitable victories of Mother Nature and Father Time.
The signs were already on the wall through the first half of this season, and the streets are watching and talking: “Ed Reed can’t dish it like he used to on the gridiron, because the 'old' Reed is too dope to be a backup on a 2-7 team.”
It was confirmed when the Texans released him on Nov. 12, but two days later, in swooped his old defensive coordinator, NY Jets HC Rex Ryan. Ryan is a known attention seeker and groupie for big name players (as is his owner Woody Johnson).
The Jets are fighting for their playoff lives at 5-4 and have a real-live, top-10 D again. Signing the greatest safety on the planet to add some leadership, toughness and edge to a rising defensive unit can’t be a bad thing. The Jets rank just 24th against the pass. Reed is 35 and on his way out, but at the very least he can help school the young bucks like Antonio Allen.
Or maybe he is really gassed and it won’t work. Regardless, Reed doesn’t need one more ride into the sunset. If Reed needs any more proof that he should call it quits while he can still walk and count to 10 without forgetting, he needs to look no further than the safety that preceded him as the greatest of all-time.
Ronnie Lott is the only name that stands between Reed and his title as “the best to ever do it” at safety. Lott had an uncanny knack for predicting how a play would develop, which enabled him to close on ball carriers like a shadow in the daytime. He broke up passes with regularity and his open-field tackling game was incomparable.
They are “ball hawks” in the truest sense and were the leaders of the last line of defense for championship squads. Although they played in different eras, they shared similar styles and mental approaches to the game. They were intellectual thugs who sacrificed their bodies and were recklessly aggressive, but disciplined and refined in their animalistic nature. Both cats are Heavy Hitters, but they don’t spin records, they twist back tops, change games and—no offense to the creators of “New Jack City”—own the term, “Rock-a-bye baby.”
Reed was also a student of the game, whose intelligence and instinct put him a cut above the rest. He studied film like a movie critic, and his keen memory made him a walking scouting report on other team’s tendencies. And like Lott, Reed is deft at cobra-clutching QBs to sleep and then jumping an unsuspecting route.
Their career paths are similar. Lott was an All-American at the football powerhouse USC and was the 8th-pick of the first-round by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1981 NFL Draft. Reed was a two-time All-American at the vaunted University of Miami, and was drafted by Baltimore with the 24th-pick of the first round in 2002.
Lott played with the 49ers from 1981-1990, accumulating nine Pro Bowls, seven First-Team All-Pro selections and winning four Super Bowls (XVI,XIX,XXIII, XXIV) as the defensive general and chief kamikaze of an NFL Dynasty. Lott was equally dope as a cornerback. He spent the first four years of his career locking down fools in man coverage and exploded to legendary status once he switched to safety in 1985.
Reed made an immediate impact with B-More, torching ball carriers and regularly destroying a QB’s dreams. In 11 golden years with the Ravens, Reed copped nine Pro Bowl selections, he was an eight-time All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion (XLVII).
Statistically they mirror each other. Ronnie Lott had 63 picks, 1,113 tackles, 17 fumbles and 5 TDs in 189 career games over 14 seasons. In his 12-year career, Reed has tallied 61 picks, 621 combined tackles, 11 fumble recoveries and 7 TDs over 167 games
Lott spent time as a corner and played in a more run-heavy era, so he had more opportunities for tackles. Late ‘80s and early ‘90s offenses were still were feeding horses and runaway freight trains like John Riggins and Walter Payton, Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson. It was real for a secondary soldier back then.
Plus, the defender-friendly rules allowed Lott more physical freedom than Reed has to work with. Lott threw elbows to the head and went helmet-to-helmet in the trenches like a crash-test dummy. Once, as an alternative to missing time with surgery, Lott chose to have the tip of his finger surgically amputated after getting it caught in the facemask of an opponent.
They’re from two different eras but equally effective at pushing the limits of what they were allowed to get away with. Their excellence spans three decades. Lott was voted to the NFL’s All Decade Team of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Ed Reed made the team for the 2000’s.
Lott literally gave the 49ers everything he had in his 11 seasons with them. Lott has admitted to having and playing with over 20 concussions starting in high school and throughout his Hall of Fame career. Everyone knows the stories of team doctors giving concussed players smelling salts and releasing them back into the game. An even sadder fact is that Lott’s probably delivered twice as many. Lott should have called it quits after his 49ers run. All he really did was riddle his body with more injuries and probably increase the future brain damage that he admittedly says he will eventually suffer from.
Lott went on to the Raiders and had one more all-pro caliber year in ‘91, earning another Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection. That would be the last year his peers considered him an elite player, and the last season he was able to overcome the injuries that were deteriorating his skills. After leaving the Raiders in ’92, Lott played for the Jets from 1993-94 and then was injured again while trying to make the Kansas City Chiefs in 1995, He finally returned to the 49ers to retire that same year.
With all of the new information about brain trauma, why would Reed continue playing? Sure, the money is good, but he’s made some cheddar over his career. He has all of his faculties now, but medicine and research say there’s probably a long road ahead of him, especially as a former member of the NFL Headbangaz society.
After seeing old teammates paralyzed, suffering from dementia or other brain diseases, Lott is finally grasping the reality of his football existence and preparing for the worse.
"I'm hoping that I do know that I have CTE and not speculate," Lott said as he joined a group of medical experts in September at Santa Clara University to discuss long-term brain health. "Right now I've got to speculate and because of who I am, because of the hits, I probably have it."
Five million of that contract Reed signed is guaranteed. With the NFL agreeing to a $765-million settlement in a lawsuit involving thousands of former players, he’s got to know it’s real in the field.
I say take the guaranteed money and retire now, Ed. Go the Barry Sanders route and cut your losses. That Junior Seau route is bloody, sad and tragic. You put in your work, now enjoy your fruits before you lose them.