The Texans release of Ed Reed has led to rampant speculation that the future Hall of Fame safety could make his way to the Patriots. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has always spoken glowingly about Reed throughout his great career in Baltimore, while Reed has often talked publicly about his admiration for Belichick's work as a coach.
Many thought the Patriots might make a run at Reed this past offseason as a free agent, but they opted to go for another aging veteran safety in Adrian Wilson instead. Wilson was placed on injured reserve following a pedestrian preseason, but at three years and $5 million he cost significantly less than the three years and nearly $15 million the Texans gave Reed.
A little more than a month after signing that contract, Reed underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a labral tear in his hip. He wouldn't take the field again until Week 3, when he proceeded to struggle through five ineffective starts ("nicking up" his MCL in the process) before falling all the way to the third string, behind rookies DJ Swearinger and Shiloh Keo. Rotoworld is reporting today that the Texans believe Reed has lost his speed due to his hip and knee injuries, and his play on film seems to back that up.
Reed has been considered a leader for most of his career, but he's also become somewhat of a pain in the rear recently for his head coaches. Reed greased the skids for his exit from Houston by saying the Texans were "outcoached" in their loss to Arizona. The year before that, it was Reed (along with Bernard effing Pollard) who lead a mini-mutiny against the amount of fully-padded practices John Harbaugh was putting them through.
Despite these obvious concerns, could Reed work in New England given the right circumstances? Willie McGinest had this to say on the topic on NFL Network:
“I know a coach down in New England that loves Ed Reed. When I was in those meetings, we talked about him a lot. He’s a heck of a player, he does a lot of things on and off the field because he’s a leader and he understands the game of football. He needs to go somewhere he doesn’t have to play 70 plays a game; where he can go in there and allow him some time to get healthier and maybe towards the playoffs if he’s feeling real good, stick him in there.”If there's any time to get something out of Reed, it's the playoffs, where his legendary ballhawking skills have been proven time and time again. Reed's interception of Colin Kaepernick in Baltimore's Super Bowl XLVII victory gave him 9 career postseason picks, tying a league record.
McGinnest wasn't the only Patriot-turned-NFL Network analyst to share that opinion. Heath Evans chimed in as well:
“Really the only spot that makes sense is New England. You could stockpile him away on the bench, let him heal up. Communication is key for everything that Bill [Belichick] wants to do on defense – that guy has the mouthpiece to make this defense better when it counts. Let him learn what Bill wants to do [and] come Week 16, Week 17, those January games, I guarantee [Reed] will pay dividends.”While there's no denying the idea of Reed in a Patriots jersey picking off Peyton Manning in January would be a dream come true, I'm afraid the former-Raven is simply past his due date. 35 year old defensive backs with lengthy histories of knee and hip issues don't get healthier as the year goes on. The Patriots do have an opening at safety thanks to Steve Gregory's broken thumb, but rookie Duron Harmon has looked promising and deserves this chance to play. We can reminisce about Reed's past heroics all we want, but the harsh reality is that a healthy, 22 year old Duron Harmon is a better option than chronically injured, 35 year old Ed Reed.
Another factor against Reed is his lack of special teams value. If the Patriots were to follow Willie's suggestion and stockpile Reed with the hopes of him getting healthy, they would be using up a valuable roster spot on someone that, at least for the time being, would not be contributing in any meaningful way to the roster. A player like Nate Ebner or Tavon Wilson, who rarely play on defense but are regular contributors on special teams, have far more game day value than an injured, aging back up safety.
Finally, even if Reed can return in good health, there are legitimate questions as to how much he has left in the tank athletically. It's not uncommon for defensive backs, even great ones, to lose a step or two by their mid-thirties. The fact is, Reed's name recognition far exceeds his ability as a football player at this point. Gregory will be back in a few weeks and Harmon looks perfectly capable to fill the void (gaining valuable experience in the process) in the meantime.