OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ed Reed's mind wasn't focused on football this offseason. At age 33, the future Hall of Fame safety said more important matters drew his attention.
He has a son in Atlanta he'd like to spend more time with. He has a foundation focused on teaching children aspects of football he didn't experience while he was growing up. He stayed in shape, working out on his own so that when he decided he was ready for football he'd be ready.
But there was one place you could find Reed over the spring and summer, a place where his mind was at ease. That would be the golf course.
A few years ago, Reed picked the game up and hasn't stopped playing. Those close to Reed describe him as a critical thinker, someone who enjoys a mental challenge. Golf is an outlet for him, a way for him to compete against himself each time he hits the course for 18 holes.
"I used to love [football] and now something else is coming in between, kind of like a mistress," Reed said, referring to his affection for golf.
The importance of participating in something that requires mental toughness is a perfect fit with Reed, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who will go down in history as one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game. Quarterbacks often fear Reed's presence when thinking of testing him deep.
In last year's AFC championship game, when the New England Patriots defeated Baltimore 23-20, Tom Brady had three things written on his wristband:
"Knees flexed — Down! Down!"
"Find 20 on every play."
Reed's No. 20 jersey has given quarterbacks headaches for years, and he remains confident in his abilities to play mind games against the best quarterbacks of this era. He loves exercising his brain, and while golf may be a new outlet, there are very few who can out-think Reed on a football field.
"I'm sure they are going to game plan like they always do -- write [my name or number] on their wristband and know I'm there and all that," Reed said. "I welcome them. I look forward to them. That's probably a question for you critics who said that Ed Reed has lost it, but they won't throw my way. How have I lost it if they are not throwing my way?"
Separating business from emotion
Reed had an offbeat offseason in the media, filled with cryptic messages and the unknown. Would Reed retire after 10 years in the NFL? Would Reed receive a new contract while younger players Ray Rice and Joe Flacco were in the midst of negotiating deals? Would Reed hold out for a new pact?
Reed has been a focal point for the Ravens organization since the team drafted him in 2002 out of the University of Miami. He's the franchise leader in interceptions with 57, and ranks 11th all-time in the NFL in this category (tied with five other players).
Reed is slated to earn $7.2 million in the final season of a six-year deal signed in 2006. But Reed is without representation and is negotiating with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome by himself. This can create problems for someone as emotional as Reed, who understands it's a business and that complications can be involved.
But for Reed, as prolific or as valuable as he is, the last thing he wants to hear from his boss is that he's aging and isn't worth as much as his previous contract. This is where an agent can step in and handle the process without interfering with the player's mindset. Before the 2011 season, Baltimore offered Reed an extension worth less than the $8 million-per-year threshold younger NFL safeties have received. Reed turned it down, and while both sides still are open to talks, it's unclear what the status of negotiations are at the moment.
Reed is famously frugal, having saved a lot of his money earned throughout his playing years. It's one reason he chooses not to have an agent, as he wants to play a big part in the decision-making process. It's not that he's a control freak, he just wants to be in the know. A friend close to Reed, however, said he believes the Ravens safety will hire an agent at some point to try and get a deal done. Reed has hinted at this, partly because he wants to end his career where it started.
"In this business, because there's a lot of stuff that you have to deal with, I didn't want a middle man in between it," Reed said. "I felt like we could have handled [a contract extension]. But you do need somebody to say the things that you're not able to say because you're in the business."
The same friend said Reed is aware there's a chance he'll leave the organization if Baltimore allows the player to test free agency like it did with Ray Lewis in 2009. It was clear Lewis would give Baltimore the chance to match the highest bidder. If the Ravens allow Reed to hit the market, it could be the end of an era in Charm City.
Reed, the teacher
The Ravens signed cornerback Cary Williams away from Tennessee's practice squad in 2009, and he was star struck from the beginning.
Playing alongside Reed in Baltimore's secondary would have been enough to satisfy the 27-year-old's childhood dream. But Reed took Williams under his tutelage, beginning in his early days in Baltimore as a reserve who played mostly on special teams.
"I'm just very blessed to be in a position to get two words out of the guy every day, and take every advantage given to me to talk to him and seek his instruction, his guidance on and off the field," Williams said. "He's a smart man. He knows how to maneuver. He's one of those guys you looked up to when you were a little kid."
Reed's done the same with Lardarius Webb, a young corner from Nicholls State who had a breakout campaign in 2011. Strong safety Bernard Pollard, who had a reputation for being just a box safety in Houston, had his best NFL season playing alongside Reed a year ago.
Reed has done a lot of teaching on the field, on the fly. Some of the other defensive backs have stated Reed's knowledge and ability to read offenses has compensated for their own mistakes. This on-the-job training has become essential to players such as Webb and Williams.
"We give them the blueprint in the meetings," said secondary coach Teryl Austin. "We come out and coach but those guys have to really kind of have to figure out how to work with each other on game day. [Reed is] a giant part of that because he makes all the calls, how things should look, and Ed makes it a lot easier for me."
It doesn't stop with football. Reed's teaching extends to other arenas, something Williams has taken to heart.
"We always talk about when the cameras come on, that's your resume," Williams said. "You want to put the best resume out there possible, that you're able to make those plays and do those things they require you to do. He's talking about being more than just a football player — expanding your horizons on a whole different level."
Reed's love for football
Despite patches of gray popping up in his hair and beard, Reed doesn't appear ready to walk away from football just yet. He told a Florida newspaper in May that he could play another four or five years.
This, despite his occasional eagerness to step away from the game and focus on other aspects of life, can cause confusion as to what Reed truly wants to do.
His love for football was apparent July 16 at Stevenson University, when he hosted a free football camp in conjunction with his Ed Reed Foundation. Between 70 and 100 children attended, practicing various football drills and scrimmaging.
Reed was on the field in a 10-pound weighted vest, getting a light workout of his own while instructing the next generation of football players.
Golf may be Reed's mistress, a place where his mind can be at peace when needed. But there's still a burning desire for football in his heart, one he hopes he'll be able to continue past this season.
"Would I like to play more? Of course, but what the body tells you is something different," Reed said. "That's something that you always deal with after the season. When we cross that bridge, you guys will know, of course."