Now that Joe Flacco has been awarded far too much money, the Ravens can turn to the matter of their other pending free agents. They have about $11 million in salary cap space due to their quarterback’s cap friendly contract which accounts for just $6.8 million in 2013, as opposed to the $19.1 million Flacco would have occupied had the Ravens been forced to use a franchise tag on him.
They won’t use a tag on anyone now, even with one aging yet still significant defensive piece set to become a free agent in a week: Ed Reed.
Earlier this morning Reed told NFL Network that he hasn’t heard from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome yet, which is troubling, but not all that out of the ordinary with free agency still a week away. That’s a hell of a long time in NFL land, and there’s no urgency yet if a decision has already been made to shun the franchise tag.
But a Ravens defense without both the retired Ray Lewis and Reed in addition to likely one of Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger — both of whom are also pending free agents — is a daunting thought. This is why repeating as champions is a little difficult in the NFL.
While he had a fine season, the loss of Kruger isn’t as significant, because he was often in a rotation with Courtney Upshaw. Also, losing both Ellerbe and Lewis will suck, but at the back of the first round of this year’s draft there will be an opportunity to easily fill that middle linebacker hole with another young run stuffer. Like, say, Kevin Minter or Manti Te’o. But losing Reed and his unmatched ball hawking ability would be a crushing blow.
We speak of Reed’s age (34) and health problems often. But he’s played all 16 games for two straight years, after missing 10 games between 2009 and 2010. He also defensed 15 passes this past season, a number that was in the single digits throughout the first five years of his career. That field awareness led to four interceptions, and he has a career total of 61 now.
Reed told NFL Network that he wants to remain a Raven for life, which is rather noble. But despite those shiny stats and the apparent absence of a decline, the main problem for the Ravens is one of depth elsewhere, and whether or not to invest in a player who may spiral off a cliff soon with what little cap space they have. At 27, Ellerbe is much younger, and he was one of only two Ravens defenders to record 90 or more tackles (the other was Bernard Pollard).
After all the above is considered, perhaps a discussion in a posh Ravens office ends with this question: what’s worse between the risk of paying Reed for two-to-three more years, or playing against him for two-to-three more years if he lands in New England?