Ed Reed

Ed Reed, who was just named to his ninth Pro Bowl, acknowledges that he's not the same player he once was. "It's definitely not what it used to be when I was 24 versus 34 right now," he said. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / December 2, 2012)

Holding court inside the Ravens' locker room Thursday, veteran free safety Ed Reed was in no hurry to head toward the exit door.

Reed is following a similar unrushed, stress-free approach toward addressing his uncertain future with the team after 11 seasons.

With his six-year, $44.4 million contract expiring at the end of this season and Reed scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is acting like a man who's savoring every moment of his time with the Ravens.

In a wide-ranging interview, infrequent for Reed during the middle of a week, he appeared unconcerned about his immediate plans beyond preparation for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals and the ensuing playoffs.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," Reed said when asked if this could be the end of his tenure with the AFC North champions. "My focus is finishing the season off right now and prepare for the playoffs and go from there as far as my future. It's all about the near future. It's not about the offseason or anything like that."

It's been an uneven year for Reed, marked by flashes of the impactful, big-play skills he's displayed since he was drafted by the Ravens in the first round in 2002. The 34-year-old has intercepted four passes this season and was named to his ninth Pro Bowl on Wednesday, though his selection was ripped by some critics who felt San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle was more deserving.

Reed has also dealt with a few embarrassing lapses, like his slow reaction to Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker's double-move stutter-step pattern for a touchdown two weeks ago. He was literally hurdled by Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek and Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno and roughly stiff-armed by Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Reed acknowledged that he doesn't have the same mobility as he did when he entered the NFL out of Miami, laughing and smiling when asked about his range.

"It's definitely not what it used to be when I was 24 versus 34 right now," Reed said. "That's where the mental part comes into it. You slow down physically, but mentally you get a lot stronger and you understand the game more, which allows me to play the game a certain way and put myself in different situations."

'Ed's lost a step'

Reed has dealt with durability issues in recent seasons. He's been hampered by a painful nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder and played through the discomfort of a torn shoulder labrum this year.

But he hasn't missed a game this season.

Reed contends with the usual travails of an older player: the loss of speed with the natural advancement of age.

"Ed's lost a step," said NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, a former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager. "They all do, but you make up for that with instincts. I don't see the big, game-changing plays you used to see from him. It may be a little tougher for him to take some of his gambles that he did in the past."

Although Reed has 58 tackles, 15 pass deflections and three fumble recoveries, he has no sacks this season and hasn't forced a fumble for the first time in five seasons.

"At some point, you wear down," said former Ravens coach Brian Billick, now a FOX television analyst. "I think the physicality of the game for Ed has gotten to the point where there are lingering effects, but he's certainly still an impact player.

"He's respected so much around the league with his ability to disrupt the passing game. Normally, it's hard to have that kind of impact at free safety. He's transcended that. He's going to be a Hall of Fame player."

In the third game of the season, Reed delivered a punishing hit to New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman in the end zone to break up a potential touchdown pass. He was also flagged for an illegal hit in that game for his crushing helmet-to-helmet tackle on wide receiver Deion Branch, earning him a fine.

Since that game, Reed hasn't tackled nearly as crisply, and he's had trouble bringing down runners in the open field.

"I don't think he's tackled very well," former NFL safety Matt Bowen said. "Was Ed Reed ever the best tackler? No, he's a playmaker. He can be beat and still recover and make the play. He has such great instincts to go get the ball. He takes great angles. Ed Reed finishes plays and he's still feared by quarterbacks."