The San Francisco 49ers are coming off of a successful 2012 season, but they are poised to make another big splash in the offseason.
After acquiring wide receiver Anquan Boldin in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens, the 49ers are interested in Ed Reed in free agency. Reed helped the Ravens win Super Bowl 47, a game in which Baltimore beat San Francisco. Reed intercepted 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl and was stellar in Baltimore's playoff run.
However, the highly respected veteran may be on his way out of Baltimore. The Ravens already gave up Boldin and lost Paul Kruger and Danelle Ellerbe, and they could lose their safety as well. Reed is a veteran presence who has now won it all, and he could definitely help a 49ers team with an inexperienced quarterback and lots of young players, especially on defense.
Reed deflected 16 passes and intercepted four passes in 2012 (and one more in the Super Bowl), both of which would have led the 49ers. Reed has amazingly had five seasons in which he has intercepted seven or more passes, and two seasons with at least nine interceptions. Reed has also played in all 16 games in his last two seasons and eight seasons over his career, and he has played in double-digit games in every season.
What does that mean? It means that Reed can stay on the field, and he can make an impact on the field.
San Francisco's current safety, Dashon Goldson, is headed out of San Francisco, as he signed a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Goldson fizzled down the stretch and during the playoffs, and he intercepted three passes in 2012, compared to seven in 2011. Goldson isn't a great tackler and gives up lots of completions, which is something that hurt the 49ers.
While Reed isn't known for tackling, he is a smart safety who doesn't make many mistakes. He won't surrender big completions, but he will make plays on defense. Amazingly, Reed has 13 career touchdowns, and he still knows how to get the ball in the end zone on defense. Reed has great speed and range, and his presence can change the entire defense for the better.
The 49ers have talent on the defensive line and at linebacker, but the secondary is a bit sketchy. Tarell Brown did a good job in coverage, and Chris Culliver and Carlos Rogers were serviceable (although not great). However, Goldson and Donte Whitner weren't great, and they were torched in the postseason. Julio Jones caught 11 passes for almost 200 yards in the NFC Championship, and lots of those yards were due to missed tackles and blown coverage by Goldson.
And Reed? He is a wise player who almost never gets fooled or makes the wrong decision, which is something the 49ers need.
San Francisco allowed seven plays of at least 20 yards against Baltimore and Atlanta, and it allowed six plays of 17 or more yards against the Green Bay Packers. Reed can definitely put a stop to this by making a huge play, whether it means making a tackle (58 in 2012), picking off a pass or knocking away a throw.
Goldson reached double-digits on pass deflections for the first time in his career, and he only batted away 11 passes. He wasn't a huge help for the defense, and he was a weak link in tackling on a defense that rarely misses a tackle.
Goldson was also a liability in coverage who bit on a lot of fakes and got beaten downfield, which isn't good for a pass rush that isn't always spectacular and had trouble getting to the quarterback late in the season.
Reed, however, is a good fit in the 49ers defense, because he can stop deep balls and cover a lot of territory. If the pass rush can’t get to a quarterback and the receivers have time to get deep or get open, Reed can make a play and possibly intercept the pass.
He’s not known for his tackling, but he’s an above-average tackler who won’t have to make many tough tackles due to his range, allowing him to get near the ball on a pass. Reed has traits that allow him to make up for his "bad" tackling, unlike Goldson, who was very inconsistent in 2012.
One of those traits is intimidation factor. When a quarterback doesn’t want to throw one way, he won’t throw there, and that makes him hold on to the ball longer. If that happens, pressure on the quarterback or a sack is much more likely, which will impact the two Smith “brothers.”
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are certainly capable of covering the intermediate routes, and Reed will take up a large portion of the field. The 49ers need someone to watch the middle of the field, and Reed is the right guy.
Even though he is old, Reed can most definitely be a valuable asset to the 49ers. He adds a veteran presence that San Francisco has lacked for the last few years, and he adds an intimidation factor. Quarterbacks don’t want to throw Reed’s way, and he will certainly take up a lot of the field. He helped Baltimore win the Super Bowl and would have a good chance of winning one in San Francisco, which is very likely.
The 49ers need a replacement for Goldson, and there aren’t any better safeties out there. Louis Delmas is visiting the 49ers, but he isn't anything special. Drafting a safety is risky, especially because there are no star safeties in this year’s draft class and the 49ers pick 31st. Putting the money on the table for Reed is fine, because San Francisco won’t make any other huge signings. They let Goldson go because he struggled, but Reed didn’t struggle at all.
And if he signs with San Francisco, he’s certainly going to do the opposite of struggle.