Ed Reed

End of an Era: Ed Reed

It’s been over a month since Ed Reed announced his retirement and the un-assuming, former Baltimore Ravens star did so in a classy, understated press conference. Reed is on the Mount Rushmore of NFL safeties and was one of the very best players in the entire league during the 2000s. Reed is/was also highly respected throughout the NFL.

Before the Ravens played the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game (Jan. 2012), Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said the following:

“Can’t say I’ve ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary.”

Want to hear Belichick wax poetic about a player? Check out “Bill Belichick – A Football Life.” Belichick’s respect for Reed as a fellow student of the game is on full display.

Ed Reed wasn’t a physical specimen or a track star. However, he was blessed instinctually and combined with his natural ball-hawking prowess and a “Bobby Fisher” like prodigious understanding of what an offense was trying to accomplish he became one of the most feared defensive backs in NFL history when the ball was in the air. No one was better at turning defense into instant offense whether it be by way of “Pick-Six” (7 – 10th all time), or field position 1,590 INT return yards (most all-time) Reed’s playmaking ability from the safety position was transcendent. 

It seems appropriate that Reed retired during the same offseason as fellow safety and division rival Troy Polamalu. There were so many parallels to their respective careers including: highly decorated collegiate careers at Miami (FL) and USC respectively; both were first round picks; both played for 12 seasons in the NFL; both safeties starred in the AFC North for the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively perhaps the NFL’s marquee rivalry during the 2000s; both are Super Bowl Champions; both won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award; and both are Hall of Famers (at least in my estimation). But if you asked the average football fan they would tell you that Troy Polamalu was the better player. In fact in a recent CPGM poll on Instagram Polamalu was considered the better player in a landslide. Is it because the Steelers have a larger following? Is it because he made more plays? I think it’s because of the Head & Shoulders commercials. Let’s see how the numbers and accomplishments stack up and decide for yourself who the better safety was. Though it should be noted that Polamalu and Reed were asked to do different things so it isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.

Ed Reed

Troy Polamalu

2004 Defensive Player of the Year 2010 Defensive Player of the Year
Pro Football Hall of Fame 1st team All 2000s Team Pro Football Hall of Fame 2nd team All 2000s Team
(9) Pro Bowls (8) Pro Bowls
(5) First Team All-Pro (4) First Team All-Pro
(531) Tackles (581) Tackles
(112) Assists (197) Assists
(6) Sacks (12) Sacks
(64) Interceptions (32) Interceptions
(141) Passes Defended (108) Passes Defended
(11) Fumbles Forced (14) Fumbles Forced
(13) Fumbles Recovered (7) Fumbles Recovered
(13) Non-Offensive TDs (5) Non-Offensive TDs


I imagine Reed goes under-appreciated by the casual fan because he was overshadowed by Mr. Raven himself Ray Lewis. In fact when Reed was asked about Lewis at his retirement presser he stated that Ray made everyone’s job easier and it’s true. Ray Lewis is who everyone thinks of when it comes to the Baltimore Ravens and for good reason. However, Reed was so much more than a “sidekick.” Even if you are familiar with Reed’s dynamic playmaking ability you may not know exactly how much he and Lewis prepared. Often times having the other members of the defense join them at their respective homes to watch and discuss film after practice. It was this diligence, trust and understanding that allowed Reed to take chances, freelance and play out of position from time-to-time. It ultimately resulted in 64 career interceptions 6th most in NFL history. Reed’s dedication to his craft enabled him to fulfill his goal of being the best possible football player he could be.

No doubt there are plenty who can recall many of Reed’s interceptions and big hits. Reed holds the NFL record for the two longest interceptions returned for touchdowns (107 yards and 106 yards). Reed un-selfishly lateralling the ball to fellow safety Dawan Landry after an interception in order to score a defensive touchdown. Even if you go back to his days at the “U” stripping his own teammate and taking it the distance to preserve an undefeated season. There are so many memorable moments from Reed’s immaculate career but there is one play in particular that you probably will never see on a highlight film or YouTube video (trust me I’ve looked). Unfortunately I cannot recall who the Ravens’ opponent was but it solidified Reed as the greatest ball-hawking safety I had ever seen. There was an errant throw and needless to say Reed covered a ton of ground and was able to get both hands on the football. But his momentum was carrying him out of bounds and his feet were not down. Reed basically threw a no-look behind the back pass to a teammate in order to establish possession and get the turnover as he went out of bounds. It was an amazing play, a play only Ed Reed could make. He was truly a brilliant and dominant defender for a decade.

And then there was the salt and peppered haired Reed who had lost a couple steps. No longer was he the quintessential ball-hawk but he became a liability in space. “Father Time” without question is the un-disputed champion.  In fact, the Ravens’ front office decided to move on from Reed and he ultimately played his final season in 2013 bouncing between the Houston Texans and New York Jets. It was certainly difficult to watch so like I do with Polamalu I suppress those memories. It’s simply more enjoyable to cherish and reflect on his performance during his prime.

Ed Reed was selected in the first round 24th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in 2002.

In addition to being the NFL’s record holder for the two longest interception returns for TD’s. Ed Reed is also the All-Time leader in multi-interception games (13).

Statistics courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.



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