HOUSTON — Ed Reed knew right from the start of free agency that he wanted to play for the Texans and that his days in Baltimore were over.
The nine-time Pro Bowl safety signed a three-year, $15 million contract with Houston on Friday, adding championship experience to the Texans’ defense and leaving the reigning Super Bowl champions without yet another of their cornerstone players.
Reed said Texans general manager Rick Smith called him on the first day of free agency and the Texans were his first choice from that point on.
“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’ gain was one more offseason blow to Baltimore, where Reed played his first 11 NFL seasons.
Star linebacker Ray Lewis retired and the Ravens traded receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers. With salary-cap limitations, Baltimore lost linebackers Paul Kruger (Cleveland) and Dannell Ellerbe (Miami) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia) in free agency. The Ravens also cut safety Bernard Pollard, who signed with Tennessee.
“How fortunate we were to have Ed with us for 11 seasons,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “He is one of the Ravens’ and NFL’s all-time greats. Words cannot measure what he did for us, including helping us win a second Super Bowl. We thank him for all he did for Baltimore. Ed will always be a part of the Ravens family.”
Reed said he talked to Newsome, Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh and owner Steve Bisciotti before signing with Houston.
“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.”
But Reed called Houston “a perfect fit,” and already knows the Texans well from their three meetings with Baltimore since October 2011. He sees the Texans now where the Ravens used to be.
Baltimore lost to Pittsburgh in the 2008 AFC championship, then lost in the divisional playoffs in 2009 and ‘10. The Ravens lost to the Patriots in the 2011 AFC championship before their breakthrough last season.
Reed is hoping to be the last piece Houston needs.
“I’ve watched these guys so many times,” Reed said. “I’ve played against them, I know what this team has, I know what this organization has. I know what I’m coming into, as far as the mentality. There’s a goal that’s been set, from top to bottom. I come in just for that, I come in to play championship football.”
The Texans needed to nab Reed after absorbing other significant losses in free agency. Tight end James Casey and outside linebacker Connor Barwin signed with Philadelphia, and safety Glover Quin signed with Detroit after starting every game for Houston in the past three seasons.
Texans owner Bob McNair said Houston’s secondary needed more veteran leadership, particularly in big games. Last season, Houston won 13 games, but was badly beaten by Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay and twice by Tom Brady and New England, the second time in the playoffs.
Baltimore and Reed, meanwhile, beat the Patriots in the AFC championship, their third win in the last five meetings. McNair acknowledged that the Ravens’ success against New England was part of the appeal of luring Reed.
“It was quite clear that Baltimore was able to play the Patriots and they were very effective,” 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.”
Experience aside, the Texans also believe Reed can still play at an elite level.
Reed was the NFL’s top defensive player in 2004 and he’s intercepted nine passes in 15 career postseason games. He’s also 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.
“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.”
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 helped Houston’s chances that Reed grew up in nearby New Orleans and still has family living there.
“Texas is neighbors to Louisiana, I feel it in the weather,” Reed said. “Knowing that my mom, my dad can drive right on over and see me play football, bring my little nephews, that’s something that you can’t take back. That’s something that won’t ever happen in life.”
Reed says he’s also highly motivated to help his close friend Johnson win a Super Bowl.
“I know where his heart is at, for this city,” Reed said. “There’s no other person I want to help more do that than him. That’s just what we’re reaching for, man.”