Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs Give Baltimore Ravens Plenty of Opportunities in 2012

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIMay 21, 2012

Ed Reed wants a new deal
Ed Reed wants a new dealRob Carr/Getty Images

CEOs, company executives and department managers have been trained and reprogrammed to handle problems within their companies these days as opportunities” for growth. Problems are often regarded as unwelcome and hard to deal with and overcome. In other words, reaching a goal or projected finish becomes clouded and difficult to accomplish and achieve when faced with difficult "problems."

Opportunities are seen as motivational and can be easy to fix. Problems, on the other hand, come in many forms, and are seen as unwanted and unwelcome in any business environment. Fixing a problem causes stress, while fixing opportunities is seen as a team-building moment within companies that produces desired results. 

Individual employees create many “opportunities” in their own right. They say that employee "opportunities" come down to two major issues. The "opportunity" is either a training issue or discipline issue, and most discipline issues must be dealt with swiftly.

It's a good thing the Baltimore Ravens have a new-age owner in Steven Bisciotti, who understands these new, complex ways of running a successful business because his football team has a ton of "opportunity" staring them directly in the face.

The outcome of these opportunities and how the Baltimore Ravens either adapt, or fail to adapt, will determine if the Ravens belong in discussion as one of the NFL’s elite franchises. Failing to adapt, just as many talk show hosts, experts, and casual NFL fans suggest,  will support the claim by many that Baltimore is simply the first franchise a notch below those considered as elite year in and year out in the NFL.

As a Ravens fan, it has become increasingly frustrating each season to hear the lack of respect the team receives in comparison to franchises like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, and New York Giants. The Ravens belong in the rankings with these teams when you consider that Baltimore has made eight trips to the playoffs in the past 12 seasons and won one Super Bowl title.

No team in the NFL can boast the following resume since John Harbaugh took over in 2008: The Ravens are the only NFL team to appear in the playoffs and win a playoff game in each of the past four seasons (2008-11). Baltimore won the AFC North in 2011, sweeping the division, and went 7-1 against playoff teams (including the playoffs).

Only the Green Bay Packers went undefeated in division play and against other postseason qualifiers until reaching the playoffs. The Ravens produced a second-straight 12-4 record, winning six of their last seven and going undefeated at M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore’s 10-game regular season home winning streak ranked second only to Green Bay’s 13).

Harbaugh is just the fourth head coach in NFL history to reach the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. Baltimore's 49 total victories from 2008-11 tie with New England and New Orleans for second most in the league and are one behind Pittsburgh's 50.

The Ravens had the best season in the only division to produce three teams with winning records—Baltimore (12-4), Pittsburgh (12-4) and Cincinnati (9-7)—that all made the 2011 playoffs.  

Yet Baltimore is still classified as a team that has a rapidly closing window, is old on defense and possess an average quarterback. The Ravens are considered fragile, and when the articles start flowing about which team that made the playoffs last season won’t this season, you can bet Baltimore will top the list in many of those write ups.

In fact, they did last year, too. That is what can happen if you listen to the national media too much. If the Ravens return to the playoffs they will have overcome a lot of adversity to do so, and handled the many opportunities that are before them.

There are still those unsettled contract negotiations regarding franchise QB Joe Flacco and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice. Not to mention the Terrell Suggs injury, and the ever-increasing cancer that is Ed Reed.

But let’s face it, some of the franchises considered elite have had to overcome similar problems to earn their status. No elite franchise is without “opportunity”, and this season, it appears Baltimore will be front and center with a chance to show the NFL world how they handle theirs.

Ultimately, winning and losing decide status in any league. Pittsburgh's 6 Super Bowls, New England's 3 Super Bowls and The New York Giants' two Super Bowls in the past five seasons factor in greatly, but elite teams do not always win the big game, as the 2007 Patriots remind us.

The Ravens are worthy of that elite status considering the past few seasons. Starting with Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore certainly has a front office to match the elite status. Newsome must ensure his coaching staff uses the Terrell Suggs injury as an opportunity to develop Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle and this year’s second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw to fill the void.

Suggs injured his Achilles tendon a few weeks ago and recently had surgery to repair it. Reports indicate Suggs could miss anywhere from 4 weeks to the entire season, with the latter being more considering the type of injury.

What the Ravens cannot do is use Suggs' injury as an excuse for failure. The Steelers were 3-1 two years ago while their starting QB sat for the first four games of the season. Pittsburgh is notorious for allowing players to leave via free agency and replacing them with homegrown talent. The Steelers have battled offensive line problems for the past five seasons and have managed to forge ahead. This off season the Steelers lost several key components. Gone is ILB James Farrior, CB William Gay, offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu, and Hines Ward retired.

You can bet the Pittsburgh will be just fine, and the Ravens will be as well without Suggs. The 2011 D.P.O.Y will be missed, but Baltimore will somehow fill the void. They have become that type of franchise, led by one of the best GM's in all of sports, Ozzie Newsome.

The New England Patriots were historically bad on defense this past season but only had it catch up with them in the Super Bowl. I know Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff helped the Pats board the plane to Indianapolis, but did anybody happen to watch wide receiver Julien Edelman cover Anquan Boldin during the AFC Championship game?

It is no surprise that the Giants were the first team to win a Super Bowl with a defense ranked 26th or worse. They overcame and adapted. They also got a little healthier, which didn't hurt their cause. 

That's what elite teams do almost every year at some point—they overcome and adapt. The New York Giants did it and came full circle once again against New England in February. The biggest catches during the final drive in the Giants' first victory over New England in SB XLII were made by David Tyree, who retired in 2010, and Plaxico Buress, who's since been to jail and is now playing for New York’s other team. The Giants lost their franchise running back the year before they beat New England in Arizona, but bounced back just fine.

The Ravens are no strangers to the "next man up" philosophy, made famous during the Brian Billick era and written about by the great sports writer John Feinstein in a book of the same name. Feinstein followed the Ravens around for an injury-plagued 2004-05 season and wrote about the team, which failed to make the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

If the Ravens manage to return to the playoffs for a fifth straight season with the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year on the sidelines, then they should be close to the top of the NFL’s elite. The Ravens may also have to do it without all-world safety Ed Reed if you believe his latest outburst.

Reed has become the player that is the discipline problem mentioned at the start of this article. It may come to pass that Baltimore needs to overcome the loss of two all-world defenders to visit the postseason again this year, but it’s not an impossible feat. If the Ravens were smart with the Suggs injury already on their plate, they would deal with Reed accordingly and swiftly.

The solution is not to give in and hand out an outrageous new contract. The solution may be to release Reed and call his bluff. As hard as that sounds Ravens fans, he may be forcing Ozzie Newsome’s hand.

There has been a prevailing opinion in the NFL at times that the Ravens have allowed their superstars to bully the organization at times. Suggs has done it, Reed is doing it, and Ray Lewis has spoken his mind on more than a few occasions. I have a feeling that before it is all said and done Joe Flacco and Ray Rice may join the party, but not if the Ravens take a stand with Reed.

Baltimore flexed its organizational muscle a few years back when Ray Lewis was allowed to seek out a new free agent deal. In essence, Baltimore called his bluff and Lewis was back at his rightful spot in the middle of the field for the Ravens the next season.

Ask yourselves this, Ravens fans: would Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, or Tom Coughlin allow Ed Reed to continue with this banter? The answer is no.

You can ask Drew Bledsoe, Randy Moss, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Tiki Barber, Plaxico Buress, Michael Strahan, and, recently in Pittsburgh, Rashard Mendenhall. The funny thing is watching greats like Moss, Barber, and Buress get busted at the poker table and have their bluffs called. Every one of them wished they could have returned to play for the teams they seemed to despise when they left. While Moss expressed love for his team, his exit was hastened because he complained he was not getting the ball.

The one missing element in Baltimore may be convincing great players that Baltimore is the greener grass before it is too late. Ed Reed will be headed to Canton, Ohio when his career is over, but the Ravens do not need him poisoning the locker room until he begins the five-year hiatus.

Reed used to have outbursts every so often, but now they are becoming much more frequent. Calling out his quarterback just prior to the AFC Championship game was a move I supported at the time, but in hindsight it seems to be part of a now disturbing trend with Reed.

He spoiled the Lardarius Webb contract extension by basically saying that he does not think the Ravens are showing him enough money or enough respect. Although he did not exactly say those words, he was Ed Reed like in this published story. “Reed: Not getting respect I deserve.”

According to CBS Baltimore, what Reed did say about playing this year was: “I plan on playing, everybody in the world knows plans can change.” As for the respect part, “I got some unfinished business,” Reed said. “I got a lot on my mind I've been thinking about. The truth of the matter is, it’s about respect. It’s about getting respect and it’s a business.”

Reed said he’s “not trying to break the bank,” but he also seems to think the $7.2 million he’s scheduled to make in 2012, which is the second highest payday on the team, is insufficient for a player who has done what he has done on the field for the Ravens. According to Sports City News Service, only Ray Rice will make more ($7.7) after Baltimore placed the franchise tag on him earlier this spring. 

“For what I offer on the football field, for what I give on the football field and for what they know they’re going to get, it’s much more than these young guys out here today and what they’re getting,” Reed said. 

Reed, 33, is entering the final year of a six-year, $44.2 million and has played with a nerve impingement in his neck. How much longer he can he be counted on to play every game, which is what the Ravens need from him, is anybody's guess. Paying him to appease him would be a big mistake. This isn't baseball. In fact, Reed has played in 16 games only twice in the last four seasons, and he missed the first six games of the 2010 season while on the physically unable to perform list. He has battled hip, ankle and back injuries as well. Yes, Reed has given his all, but he’s been paid to do so.

Contracts late in careers have to be smart for all parties involved, and the one Reed wants, I’m sure, wouldn’t be that smart of a deal for the Ravens. True, Reed has saved the Ravens a ton of money in terms of not having to sign the safeties next to him during his career, but both sides are guilty of saying repeatedly that this is a business first and foremost.

Baltimore has allowed several of Reed's playing partners to walk because they have Reed. Gary Baxter, Will Demps, Dwan Landry, and Jim Leonhard have all cashed in someplace else having benefited from playing next to No.20. This year Tom Zbikowski is taking his talents with former Ravens defensive coordinator and new Colts head coach Chuck Pagano to Indianapolis.

The Yankees gave Derek Jeter a "thank you" contract, but Ed Reed is not Derek Jeter and the Baltimore Ravens are not the New York Yankees. Football is far less forgiving now that there is labor harmony than at any time in recent memory.

For the first time in recent memory, Reed was targeted on many occassions last season and was badly beaten several times. He had just 10 passes defended, and it wasn’t because quarterbacks were staying away from his side of the field. At times, and has he showed during the Texans playoff game and on the final Pats pass play of the AFC title game, Reed is still one of the best, but he is no longer the best. Reed is, however, still the smartest DB in all of football, and he can probably produce for two more seasons because of that.

Many of you will say it was just two short seasons ago that Reed intercepted eight passes in 10 games, but two years is an eternity in the NFL, and Reed has been credited with 56 (tackles and assists) official hits to that neck since the 2010 season, not counting the playoffs.

Reed followed his April comments up with retirement threats again on Thursday during an interview on Sirius NFL radio. When asked if he was 100 percent committed to playing this season Reed said, “Not at the moment, honestly. Can I play at this level? Yes, I can play at the level, but committed to doing it right now?  It's still May. I know time is kind of inching away at me. We do have a mandatory camp coming up that I'm still in deep thought about, because other things are important to me now."

Reed added that the Ravens were unaware of his stance until now. "I doubt it," Reed said. "I think they will know it after this interview, just like they knew that (Joe) Flacco was a little rattled, as we all were against Houston."

While many fans will say the Ravens need to do everything in their power to keep Reed, I say the time may be just right to call his bluff and release him. It is never a good time to cut ties with a franchise player, but last season when Ozzie cut the franchise's two all-time leading receivers, the Ravens had plenty of time to recover. Reed will continue to be a disruption until he gets what he wants, which may force action from Newsome and Ravens owner Steven Bisciotti.

Before cutting Heap, the Ravens determined that, while Ed Dickson or Dennis Pitta were then a mere 80% of the player Heap was, their pay was a fraction of Heap’s. They concluded that reallocating Heap’s cap dollars elsewhere would benefit the team overall given the capable young players waiting in the wings. If you are wondering if the Ravens have anyone available that is 80 percent of the player that Reed is, the answer is no.

Reed’s cap number is $10.025 million, which is the biggest cap hit the Ravens would take if they released him, and this is the final year of his deal.

There is no doubt an opportunity for something to happen with this situation, and there are a few issues here concerning Ed Reed and his motivating factors to return, if indeed he does. Usually veteran players who do not have a ring that are still playing at high level use that as their primary goal. However, Reed is a play away from paralysis, which I do not take lightly. However, it would be nice to see Reed win a championship with the team he's given so much to.

Don’t think for one minute Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens don’t feel the same way. It’s not unfair to Reed. Again, he’s scheduled to make 7.2 million next season, but being a little more focused on winning and a little less on money, may go a little further for Reed. No player has hit harder and longer than Ray Lewis has and seemingly his focus is on nothing but winning. Yes, Lewis got a nice payday a few seasons ago, but it was not the one he was looking for from the Ravens. Nonetheless, Lewis came back, kept quiet, and continues to be a dominant player.

Baltimore will have a chance to show the football world they are one of the top teams in the NFL without Terrell Suggs. The Ravens have won without superstars in the lineup in the past. They were 4-0 with Ray Lewis nursing a toe injury last season, and 4-2 without Reed the year before. Whether or not the Ravens want to be talked about as an elite team depends on how they overcome and adapt this year.

As we saw with Suggs on ESPN's First Take a few times this past season, how a football team perceives whether it is either being respected or disrespected matters in the locker room.

No excuses without Suggs, and no excuses with or without Reed should be the way the Ravens are thinking in the locker room. That is how Belichick, Tomlin, Coughlin, Cower, Dungy, Gruden and other great coaches would have their players thinking. I believe John Harbaugh will have his players thinking that way too, and because of it, Baltimore will continue their postseason streak at five straight years this January. 

One thing is for sure: however the Ravens proceed this season, there is plenty of “opportunity” for them to silence the critics.


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