I had this opinion piece on the back-burner for a week, but I was somewhat reluctant to pull the trigger and actually write this one. There are so many New England Patriots fans who are clamoring for the Pats to bring Ed Reed, and so I know I am definitely in the minority here. But yesterday, I had an interesting conversation on Twitter in which other Pats bloggers agreed with me. This spurned me into finally finding my muse and putting finger to keyboard.
Ed Reed is still a solid starting safety in this league, even if age has taken its toll on his run defense. Reed is pretty much restricted to free safety, and there’s really no problem with that. He’s still a very good coverage guy and still has arguably the best ball-hawking skills of anyone in this league. But he’s more of a temporary fix for a team needing an FS, than rather a permanent solution.
And therein lies the problem and why he isn’t a great- or even a good- fit for the New England Patriots. I’m not questioning Reed’s ability, because he’s still a good player; it would be crazy to even call Reed mediocre. But, again, Reed is restricted to playing free safety at this stage of his career, because he doesn’t have the ability in run support to man strong safety. I also think the Patriots should focus on getting a younger player who can start at SS for several years to come to actually solve the problem, rather than signing a temporary fix who just doesn’t fit.
So let’s say the Patriots do sign Ed Reed and play him at free safety. Now where does that leave Devin McCourty? Although Reed is still good in coverage, McCourty is even better in that regard and is, in my opinion, the best coverage safety in the NFL today. D-Mac was solid at cornerback, and the switch to safety did him even better as he has elite ability at his more natural position. Don’t think McCourty is elite? What if I told you the quarterback rating he allowed last season at safety was 10.2. That’s right, 10.2.
While Reed is certainly no slouch in coverage, McCourty is even better. The Patriots could move McCourty back to cornerback, but, as Nick Underhill writes, “That would be a big mistake.” He then writes what I stated in my controversial opinion piece on Aqib Talib, moving McCourty to safety (and Kyle Arrington in the slot) had a bigger effect on the Patriots pass defense than acquiring Aqib Talib.
A popular argument coming from proponents of the Patriots signing Reed is that the Pats need leadership in the secondary and on defense. I really don’t think leadership is a problem for this team, because guys like Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, and Jerod Mayo fit the bill as leaders on defense. McCourty isn’t exactly a “me-first” guy either, and I don’t think anybody should have any qualms with the characters of Steve Gregory (recently visited a children’s hospital in Worcester) and Kyle Arrington either. You could talk about how Alfonzo Dennard punched a cop and whatnot, but he was a leader at Nebraska and hasn’t done anything wrong with the Patriots.
Wanting to sign a player with the main goal in mind being “leadership” is a bit of a crutch argument, especially when it’s a team like the Patriots that already has leadership. I’d rather have talent, and this team doesn’t need to add another “solid veteran” at safety. We already have that kind of a guy in third-safety Gregory. What the Patriots need is a young, talented SS who can make things happen in run defense while also bringing more to the table than Gregory or the likely departuring Patrick Chung in coverage.
Someone like Matt Elam or D.J. Swearinger in the 2013 NFL Draft (Eric Reid could also work), and I wouldn’t be opposed to signing a guy like Dashon Goldson (only if his price tag isn’t bloated) or, my personal favorite, George Wilson.
What I want the New England Patriots to do at the safety position is keep rising star FS Devin McCourty at safety, while focusing on finding a young, talented guy at SS with good run defense and sound coverage skills. That guy could be Tavon Wilson with a little more seasoning (and yes, I have an opinion piece on him coming up in the near future), or it could be a free agent or someone in the draft. I know Wilson isn’t a young guy (32), but he has a few years left in him. Reed? He seems like a one-year rental to me; we don’t need that.
We also don’t need to play a guy out of position, or switch out a great player to accommodate a worse (but still good) player in Ed Reed at free safety. That’s just moving backwards at safety, even if it is adding another solid player there. McCourty could still play well at corner, but it would be just downright dirty to rob him of playing at a First-Team, All-Pro level at FS. To me, the choice is clear; let Reed stay with the Baltimore Ravens (that will most likely happen) or sign with the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots should save their money and upgrade at the position that actually needs to be upgraded- strong safety. Let’s get younger and find a real solution for at least the next few years- preferably the next five.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.