NEW ORLEANS––In the Big Easy this week, there's an NFL legend, one of the best defensive backs in NFL history who has a big decision facing him when the Super Bowl is over.
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed has his attention focused on the game at hand, Sunday's matchup against the San Francisco 49ers that will determine the winner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But after the game is over, after the confetti rains down, win or lose, Reed has a difficult choice to make. The 11-year NFL veteran and New Orleans native will elect either to continue his playing days or retire.
There's been speculation from the media, and Reed has hinted that retirement is a possibility, but he's made no definitive decision as of yet. Based upon recent comments, it appears Reed is leaning toward playing at least one more season, but he is a free agent at season's end.
“I didn’t say I was definitely coming back, but I’m planning on it," said Reed. "I’ll assess those things after this game. I’m just soaking all this in right now. I’m not thinking about next year. Usually, I’m thinking about next year right now because I’m not in this game. I’m so far away from tomorrow, honestly. I’m just thinking about right now, today."
Maybe Reed's tune will change if he's able to earn his first Super Bowl ring and go out on top, but that's a ruling that is still forthcoming.
Back in Green Bay, a similar situation is unfolding. Another fabled defensive back potentially––and perhaps likely––has some life-altering judgements to make over the course of the next few weeks and months.
Packers safety Charles Woodson faces an offseason of uncertainty as age, contract and injury concerns all converge to create an unclear future.
Woodson is coming off one of the least impactful seasons of his 15-year career in 2012 after a move to safety. It's evident that Woodson has lost a step at 36 years old, but whether he's finished in the NFL is another story.
Beyond Morgan Burnett, the Packers don't have another clear-cut starter at safety on their roster. The jury is still out on M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, and it's possible that Woodson is still a better option than both of them.
But the Packers also have to take his contract into account. Woodson is scheduled to make approximately $10 million per season in each of the next two years in salary and bonuses combined.
For a player past his prime, it's unlikely that Packers can afford to keep Woodson around under terms of his current contract, especially when Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji are due contract extensions in the very near future. And whether or not Woodson would agree to take a paycut is still undetermined.
Wide receiver Donald Driver agreed to a restructured contract paying him less money this past season, but Driver also played sparingly in a bit role. If Woodson is going to return, he'll expect and be expected to start.
There's also injury concerns to overcome. Woodson was limited to only the first seven games of the season after sustaining the second broken collarbone of his career, the first occurring in Super Bowl XLV in 2011.
At his age, Woodson's body may not be able to hold up to another season of smashing and pounding.
It's a situation not dissimilar to Reed who is starting to see his physical limitations pushed to their boundaries. Reed played through a torn labrum this season and has been fighting through a nerve impingement in his neck that's affected him for the past six or seven seasons by his estimation.
In light of recent attention on concussions and the welfare of former NFL players, health concerns could play a role in the decisions made by Woodson and Reed.
"I pay out of my pocket for my physical well-being," said Reed. "It makes you think. It makes you think about your livelihood after football, how much you’re going to have to spend to take care of your body, the toll that it puts on us."
As far as their legacies, Woodson and Reed also share several similarities. Reed is the NFL's all-time leader in career interception return yardage (1,541), has the longest interception return in league history (108 yards) and has the most seasons leading the league in interceptions (three).
Woodson is second on the NFL's all-time list for interceptions returned for touchdowns (11), just one behind the leader.
Both are future Hall of Famers.
What the future holds for both men remains to be seen. Not many NFL players are afforded the luxury of calling it quits of their own volition. A good number have their careers ended by either injury or being released. Reed is hoping to buck the trend.
"I'm walking away on my own terms, hopefully," said Reed. "I pray that I'm walking away on a positive note. But as time goes, your skills start to diminish a little bit."
Woodson could be in the same boat. It's highly unlikely he plays in 2013 under current deal he signed in 2010. But the end of his career has not yet been charted.
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