Ed Reed Isn’t What He Once Was, But His Leadership Could Be Key to Turn Tides for Patriots’ Secondary

Ed ReedEditor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots free agent addition every day from Feb. 18 through the start of NFL free agency on March 12.

The love affair between Ed Reed and Bill Belichick is well established, which only adds to the intrigue.

Belichick has been praising Reed’s work ethic, drive and intelligence since his first days in the NFL, and their week together at the 2006 Pro Bowl only deepened the mutual admiration between the two. That respect has just continued to grow, and Reed’s flirtation with free agency could finally see the pair link up full time.

The Patriots have been rumored to have serious interest in signing Reed this offseason and Reed even said he could “definitely” see himself playing for Belichick. Reed has said a number of times, especially after winning the Super Bowl, that he wants to return to the Ravens but general manager Ozzie Newsome has yet to make that desire a reality.  So, with the free-agent negotiations already ongoing and the market officially opening up on Tuesday, the Patriots still have a fighting chance to land the All-Pro safety — and what a game changer he would be.

Since entering the league back in 2002, Reed has developed into one of the best safeties in the NFL today and quite possibly even the single best of all-time. He’s racked up nearly 60 tackles per season and more than 61 total interceptions over his 11-year career, which are great numbers for any defensive back, but his impact is rooted even deeper than numbers could show.

Reed’s mere presence on the field has been known to intimidate quarterbacks, and his crafty deception over the top has led to many more mistakes than the 72 turnovers (11 forced fumbles) he’s been credited with. He’s an instinctive player with great ball skills and the unique ability to both read and thoroughly decipher offensive strategy. Simply put, he’s a defensive genius — and so the Belichick bond grows even tighter.

There is no telling whether he enjoys wearing cutoff hoodies or tossing around a lacrosse ball — I’d bet the under — but Reed’s defensive aptitude and commitment to professionalism make him a perfect Belichick disciple and the right player to lead this secondary out of the gutter.

The Patriots, who have been stuck in the NFL’s secondary cellar for two years now, did make noticeable strides during the second half of 2012. Some of that had to do with Aqib Talib‘s addition to the defense and Devin McCourty‘s subsequent move to safety, but most of it was just guys settling into their roles and a young group finally beginning to mature. That’s where Reed’s leadership would become just as handy as his physical skills.

Reed has a track record of helping young talent into skillful and crafty veterans. Just look at Bernard Pollard for example. Pollard’s first few seasons were productive and he was clearly a special talent, but his immaturity led to both the Chiefs and Texans letting him go. Since arriving in Baltimore in 2011, Pollard’s numbers have dipped a bit but his impact on the game overall is much more meaningful. That is exactly the type of effect Reed can have and the sort of impact Belichick would be expect him to bring to New England.

At 34, Reed is no longer the player that he once was. He’s still productive and can impact the outcome of a game, but not quite in the same way he was able to in his earlier years. Even with his waning abilities, Reed’s experience and leadership both on and off the field can help to improve the Patriots’ pass defense.

Trying to forecast Reed’s impact would be foolish at this juncture. Newsome will more than likely intervene with an offer to keep his veteran leader, and the fit in New England sounds a little too good to ever come true. But the potential reward is too great not to try and sway him away from his perch inside the Ravens’ nest.

So, why keep on with the coy love affair? The Patriots would be a better team with Reed, and he would have two, three or four more chances at another Super Bowl ring. The logic is there, but will Reed be when the time comes?

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

Other free agent possibilities: Gosder Cherilus - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - Danny Amendola – Anthony Spencer – Anthony Fasano – Dwight Freeney – Brandon Moore – Dunta Robinson – Glover Quin – Greg Jennings – Rashean Mathis – Sean SmithMike Wallace

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