Ed Reed has been such a singular force of nature during his 12-year NFL career that even the acknowledgement that his legs can no longer keep pace with his mind is hardly a deterrent to hoping he finally ends up playing for Bill Belichick.
The mutual respect between the Patriots coach and the longtime Raven (and brief, recently discarded Texan) is well documented, to the point where you're left wondering how Belichick ever passed him up for Daniel Graham in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft. Having Lawyer Milloy, Victor Green, and Tebucky Jones on the roster at the time is not a reason.
But should a reminder of the respect Belichick and Tom Brady have for Reed be required, just run a quick out-pattern over to YouTube and queue up this famous footage from the "A Football Life" documentary on the Patriots coach.
Here's the candid scene in Belichick's office, transcribed, as the coach and quarterback watch film on Reed and the Ravens during the 2009 season.
Bill Belichick: "And then Ed. I think we know about Ed. Favorite."
Tom Brady: "Ed Reed is Ed Reed. He covers up for a lot of stuff."
Belichick: "Everything he does he does at an exceptional level."
Brady: "He looks like he's guessing more than he ever has."
Belichick: "That's saying something."
It's an incredible clip, offering real insight into Brady and Belichick's relationship. They aren't discussing Reed so much as coach and quarterback but football brainiac to football brainiac. And it's apparent they recognize and respect the same level of intelligence and instinct for the game in Reed.
I'll admit, for a time I wondered about the authenticity of that moment -- after all, Belichick and Brady did use Reed's aggressiveness against him during that game. (How much would you love to know what they've said about the relentlessly duped Troy Polamalu over the years?) But there's no skepticism here about it now. As Brady essentially says later in the clip, the quarterback's eyes are always instinctively drawn to Reed upon breaking the huddle. Reed, not a certain squirrel-dancing middle linebacker of that era, is the player that had to be accounted for at all times. They knew who they were dealing with.
Four seasons later, the brutality of the sport has accelerated the toll on Reed. He is not the same player. A hip injury limited his effectiveness even as the Ravens made an improbable run to a Super Bowl victory last season, and once he got on the field for the Texans this season, the only resemblance to his former self was the name on the unfamiliar jersey.
The instincts that helped make him one of the great ballhawks in NFL history -- he has 70 interceptions and 11 defensive touchdowns, including the playoffs -- surely haven't abandoned him. But that creaky hip and his 35-year-old legs no longer carry him to where he knows he needs to be. In seven games, he had 16 tackles and did not create a single turnover.
The Patriots haven't had a spectacular track record when it comes to acquiring Belichick's presumed favorites from other teams. Chad Ochocinco was all Twitter and no production. Adalius Thomas was a phony product of playing with teammates who eased his responsibilities, among them Reed. Jason Taylor never even made it to New England, joining the Jets instead.
Maybe acquiring Reed now would be, like the player himself, a step or two late. Maybe the Patriots, having signed Adrian Wilson, another aging safety, ahead of him in the offseason is an indication that Belichick believes Reed's skills have eroded too much to help.
But maybe, given Reed's uncommon acumen for the sport, he's still capable of helping in a limited role.
He cleared waivers Wednesday afternoon, and now we wait to find out his next NFL destination. Sure, it's fair to say that everything he does he does is no longer at an exceptional level.
But even with the knowledge that he's now an old Ed Reed rather than the old Ed Reed, it's worth finding out if he can help. As the Patriots first found out by passing him up in the draft a dozen years ago, underestimating him has never been a wise thing to do.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.