The missing piece in New England's beleaguered secondary could be the oft-admired and cerebral safety Ed Reed.
Belichick's admiration for the savvy and instinctive safety has never wavered ever since Reed first debuted in the league, all the way back in 2002. In fact, both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have (half?)joked about devising ways to kidnap Reed in press conferences leading up to Ravens games.
This offseason may present a golden opportunity for the Patriots to finally make an Ed Reed acquisition a reality —through less intrusive means than windowless vans and ski masks. Reed, 34, will be a free agent this offseason, and with Baltimore's defense getting long in the tooth, a re-upping of the future Hall of Famer during the twilight of his career very well may be out of the question.
The Patriots aren't allowed to voice their opinions on Reed until he officially becomes a free agent in March, but Reed hasn't been shy in expressing his views on playing for Belichick in the days leading up to the Super Bowl:
"I could definitely play for coach Belichick," Reed said. "He is a great coach. I'm sure he can help me to expand my football knowledge even more as a player and as a coach, so if I'm ever able to be around him, just like I was at the Pro Bowl, it's huge."
"It's the reason why I wear my sweater cut off a little bit," Reed said. "He's the first guy I saw like, 'That's cool.' You know, that's cool."
Anyone who sees a sliver of potential in the ragged, sleeveless hooded sweatshirt is a man after Bill's heart. And that's not even taking Reed's exemplary play into consideration.
While he's certainly not getting any younger, Reed could offer the Patriots smart and consistent secondary play that's been sorely lacking in the defensive department for years. While he may not have the speedy burst or hard-hitting prowess he was once notorious for, Reed's A Beautiful Mind-like obsession with a receiver's route tree could greatly assist such a young, porous unit. And that intangible veteran leadership? Reed has that in droves in helping commandeer some of the most impressive defenses the NFL has ever seen.
Reed was owed $7.2 million this season, and another Pro Bowl compiled with a possible Super Bowl victory could keep his value high. A figure in that range would make it difficult for the Patriots to commit, especially if Reed is hoping for a handful of years. But with an estimated $18.6 million in cap room, the Patriots are in a position of maneuverability if they deem Reed well worth the price of admission.
The Patriots do have some young, promising pieces installed in the back end of the defense in cornerback convert Devin McCourty and rookie Tavon Wilson, but it became increasingly clear the coaching staff had lost all faith in SS Patrick Chung as the season dragged on. Steve Gregory—who the Patriots signed through 2014—flashed plenty of promise, but may not be the stopgap the Patriots are hoping for. An unquestionable day one starter who could show the young guys the ropes could help bring a steadily improving defense over the top.
Reed did back off on his Patriot-centric comments a bit, but chock it up to due diligence and not allowing his free agency to be a distraction leading up to The Big Game:
"Would I play for Coach Belichick? Yes. What football player wouldnt? Will I be in New England? Most likely not. It's just terrible that people get half the story. But it comes with it," Reed said.
Reed will undoubtedly test the waters of free agency as whichever team he chooses could very well be a final landing spot for an incredibly successful career. It's also possible Reed could choose to re-sign with the Ravens if they see him having plenty of tread left on the tires. But for a team that has long respected what Reed brings to the table and has experienced enough pitfalls of a shaky secondary, the pairing could be too perfect to pass up.