A lot of people thought Ed Reed was done. A lot of people thought Rex Ryan was done.
Now they are together again in New York, on a team that's anything but done.
The Jets, known for so long as the team that gets beat on and off the field by the New York Giants and New England Patriots, made a swift move Thursday in signing the Hall of Fame-bound Reed. The safety was supposed to ride off into the sunset with the Houston Texans, but he spoke a little too candidly about Houston's coaching and got cut Wednesday. The Jets flew him in and locked him in.
There's plenty of reason for skepticism. (Isn't there always reason for skepticism where the Jets are concerned?) Reed is old (35), coming off hip surgery (which has slowed him down), and he did not make an impact in Houston (zero passes defended). If he had done better, the Texans likely would have kept him and dealt with his candor. Instead, Reed was expendable.
Kind of like Ryan was expendable only a few weeks ago. The Jets coach was seen as a lame duck in the preseason, in line to be canned by new general manager John Idzik at seemingly any moment. He lost his favorite quarterback, Mark Sanchez, to the man Idzik drafted, Geno Smith, and he lost him because he played him late in a meaningless preseason game and watched him get hurt. There wasn't debate over whether this would be Ryan's last season, but rather about whether he would even make it through 16 games.
Reed and Ryan, close since they dominated together in Baltimore, are not only still standing; they are suddenly standing together against predictions of extinction.
And for those who haven't looked at the standings lately, the Jets are very much alive. They are 5-4, and if the season ended today, they'd be in the postseason. Outside of the division leaders, there's only one other AFC team with an above-.500 record – the Denver Broncos. Not bad for a lame duck coach and a rookie quarterback.
Here are the 4-5 teams: Browns, Titans, Dolphins, Chargers, and Ravens, Reed's old team. That's the Jets' competition right now, so it's clear how little the margin for error is. With all those teams one game behind (including one in the same division), one loss makes a big impact on the playoff race. So every little bit of defensive assistance goes a long way – especially considering the Jets are 24th in the NFL in yards allowed.
Can Reed help with that? It's still unclear. What is clear is that Reed is respected by pretty much everyone, including starting safety Dawan Landry, whom Reed helped along in Baltimore. The "coach on the field" idea is overrated, but Reed reads offenses extremely well, and he communicates just as well. For a grand total of $412,000, plus $62,500 per game played, that's a huge bargain. And with the NFL going through so much soul-searching lately about locker room culture, it can't hurt to have someone like Reed involved on a daily basis. He has consistently done something the Jets have not: win.
The signing would likely have been greeted by more approval if it was done by the Patriots. Finding other franchises' discards and turning them into contributors is the domain of Bill Belichick, not the Jets. (Heck, it was the Patriots who took Belichick from the Jets in the first place.) New England's trade for Aqib Talib last season looked risky then, but now looks inspired. That's how the Pats roll. But this time the veteran acquisition will be trying to beat New England. That's a chess move by a team that usually loses in checkers.
The Jets were supposed to be in rebuild mode under Idzik, and Ryan was supposed to be collateral damage. Clearly, however, Reed was Ryan's idea. If Ryan was so inept, he wouldn't have been able to convince his boss to bring in his guy in the heat of a playoff race. There's hope for Ryan yet in New York, and now new hope for Reed.
There's also new hope for the Jets, who play just one winning team, Carolina, from this point on. And a week from Sunday, they visit Baltimore, where Reed and Ryan made their names.
Together, they have at least one more shot to remake those names, and remake the Jets' reputation.