- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed made headlines this week when he said he could "definitely" play for the New England Patriots next season. Reed will become an unrestricted free agent in March and should be a hot commodity on the open market.
Here are some thoughts on this topic from New England's perspective:
For starters, this is great news for the Patriots. It's no secret New England has a huge need at safety to fix its 29th-ranked pass defense. And Reed, a future Hall of Famer, is the biggest name and best safety on the market. It's also no secret from numerous interviews that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a lot of respect for Reed’s skills, smarts and work ethic. The Patriots cannot say anything publicly about Reed until March when he becomes a free agent to avoid tampering. But Reed's candor at the Super Bowl this week at least tells the Patriots' brass that they have a great shot at landing the safety.
Reed would make his biggest impact in New England by preventing "chunk" passing plays. That is the Patriots' biggest weakness on defense. New England allowed an NFL-high 74 passing plays of 20 yards or more. Those are the kind of passing plays that would be in Reed's wheelhouse. Reed is at his best playing deep centerfield and reading the quarterback’s eyes. His presence would instill fear in opponents trying to test the Patriots deep.
Now, it's time to talk money. The Patriots have $18.6 million of cap room this offseason, according to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton. That is decent cap space but not immense. Reed made $7.2 million this season and another Pro Bowl and possibly a Super Bowl title will keep his value in the ballpark. Reed, 34, would count as a big-ticket item for New England, even if he only signs for a couple of seasons. The Patriots do not have the luxury to sign too many big-money free agents. There is no way New England can sign Reed, Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker, top cornerback Aqib Talib and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer all to sizable extensions. The Patriots must let someone walk.
Overall, I think the potential match between Reed and New England is a good one. However, Reed will not come cheap as an unrestricted free agent. The Patriots must decide in these next several weeks if the impact of signing Reed is worth losing out on other in-house and outside free agents.