HOUSTON — Free-agent safety Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans on Friday, bolstering their defense with championship experience.
The nine-time Pro Bowl safety signed a three-year, $15 million contract with Houston, a week after he left town without reaching a deal. Reed said that Texans general manager Rick Smith contacted him on the first day of free agency and the Texans were his first choice all along.
“From the first day of free agency, Rick called me and I think we both knew, just from the conversation, how things were going and how this would work,” Reed said. “It just was a matter of time with getting it done.”
The Texans’ acquisition was another blow to Baltimore, where Reed played his first 11 NFL seasons.
The 34-year-old Reed made $7.2 million last season with the Ravens, who’ve been gutted in free agency since beating San Francisco in the Super Bowl. Reed and Ray Lewis were cornerstones of one of the NFL’s most feared defenses for more than a decade, and now both are gone. Lewis retired and now works for ESPN.
The Ravens traded receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers, then lost linebackers Paul Kruger (Cleveland) and Dannell Ellerbe (Miami) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia) in free agency. Baltimore also cut safety Bernard Pollard, who signed with Tennessee.
Reed said he talked to Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti.
“Eleven years is a great book,” Reed said. “The way it ended, you can’t write a better script. Eventually, we knew Baltimore had to make decisions and in the end, they made those decisions.”
The Texans, meanwhile, added one of the game’s most respected safeties and revived an otherwise disappointing free agency period so far with one bold move.
Reed was the NFL’s top defensive player in 2004 and is the Ravens’ franchise leader in interceptions with 61. His 1,541 return yards with those pickoffs is an NFL career record and Reed is the only player who’s scored on a punt return, a blocked punt, an interception and a fumble recovery.
“To say we have added a player who can impact a game is an understatement,” Smith said. “I am truly thankful that this deal came together. We always talk about player acquisitions, what are you trying to do, whether it’s in the draft or free agency? We’re trying to add players that are quality men, that make an impact on the game. Certainly, we feel like we’ve done that with Mr. Reed.”
The Texans won 13 games last season, but were badly beaten twice by Tom Brady and New England, the second time in the playoffs. That was perhaps another reason to covet Reed Baltimore beat the Patriots in the AFC championship and has won three of the last five meetings since 2010.
“It was quite clear that Baltimore was able to play the Patriots and they were very effective,” Texans owner Bob McNair said. “I think their center fielder had a lot to do with that. The quarterback (Brady) has commented that the first thing he’d do when he got up to the line, he’d look for No. 20 and he wanted to know where he was. Ed studies it so well, understands it so well, that it reaches a point where he could sort of think like the other quarterback.”
Reed has been durable, playing in all 16 games in all but three of his seasons. He’s dealt with hip, neck and right shoulder injuries in recent years, but he made it through the entire 2012 season without missing a game, making 58 tackles and intercepted four passes.
Houston wasn’t shy about its plans to pursue Reed, announcing on Twitter that it was sending McNair’s private jet to pick up Reed in Atlanta, where he has an offseason home.
Reed spent two days in the city and had dinner with Texans star receiver Andre Johnson, one of his college teammates at Miami. The two played on the Hurricanes’ 2001 national championship team and Johnson said at a public appearance last week that he and Reed talked about playing together in the pros some day.
Even though Reed left town last week without signing a contract, Johnson was optimistic that Reed would become a Texan, and he turned out to be right. It didn’t hurt that Reed’s family lives in nearby New Orleans.
“For a guy this late in my career, at this age, you think about things differently,” Reed said. “I still love football, I know I can play football. It was just a matter of being somewhere that fits, for me and the team.”
Reed fills the gap created when free agent safety Glover Quin signed with Detroit. Quin, a fourth-round pick in 2009, was the Texans’ starting free safety in each of the past two seasons under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He made 107 tackles, including his first career sack, in 2012 had started 60 consecutive games for Houston.
With Reed secured, the Texans can turn their full attention to other needs, perhaps starting with a No. 2 receiver behind Johnson. Houston cut receiver Kevin Walter and coach Gary Kubiak said at the NFL meetings in Phoenix that DeVier Posey, a third-round draft pick in 2012, is “going to take some time” to recover from a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in the playoffs.
Houston also has holes to fill after tight end James Casey and outside linebacker Connor Barwin both signed with Philadelphia in free agency. The Texans re-signed cornerback Brice McCain on Wednesday.