- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Who is the better safety: Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu?
As two of the top defensive playmakers of their generation decide to call it quits this offseason, this debate should be retired, as well. Reed and Polamalu played the same position but with dramatically different styles.
Reed was the deceptively sneaky center fielder who baited quarterbacks into turnovers. He played mind games with quarterbacks and always stayed one step ahead of them by relying on keen instincts.
Polamalu was the hard-hitting, in-the-box safety who played with reckless abandon. He made his biggest impact around the line of scrimmage or by incredibly jumping over it to shut down a play before it actually began.
Reed's brilliance was that offenses never knew where he was going to be. The amazing part of Polamalu's game was that no team had a problem locating the Pittsburgh Steelers safety and his long hair but still couldn't slow him down.
Baltimore Ravens teammates often referred to Reed as "Smooth," a nod to his fluid and graceful playing style. Polamalu was often called "The Tasmanian Devil" because of his frantic movement and maniacal effort.
So who is truly the best? There is no right answer. It depends on preference and which playing style you admire the most.
This really shouldn't be a discussion. It's not a situation like Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Reed and Polamalu complement each other. If you're building the ultimate defense of this generation, Reed is the best free safety and Polamalu is the top strong safety.
Both were dynamic talents who changed the way the football world viewed safeties. Their strength was anticipation and beating an offense to the spot as if they were in the huddle when the play was called.
"They both play the game with great instincts. They both love the game," linebacker Ray Lewis said in 2011 when asked to compare Reed and Polamalu. "They are the two safeties who turn the game into an offensive possession when they have the ball in their hands. It's an honor to sit back and watch two of the best safeties to ever play the game."
Reed and Polamalu won many games and championships for their teams with big plays at big moments as they roamed the secondary. They're bound together in NFL history by how they changed games and the position itself. Reed and Polamalu are both the best, and any team would've jumped at the chance to have either one of them in his prime. That's why it's fitting they're walking away from the game in the same offseason, retiring just 28 days apart.
208dScott Brown and Jamison Hensley