Justin Reid adeptly read the eyes of Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, darting into the passing lane for his second interception of the season.
The Texans safety also delivered a punishing hit to pop the football out of the hands of wide receiver Donavan Peoples-Jones, tackling crisply by sticking his left shoulder into his chest at the right moment.
Heading into the third game of the season, in the final year of his rookie contract, Reid is playing some of the best football of his career. The former third-round draft pick from Stanford is tied for the NFL lead with two interceptions along with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyrann Mathieu, the New England Patriots’ J.C. Jackson, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Edwards and the Dallas Cowboys’ Trevon Diggs.
Reid has three total takeaways for an aggressive Texans defense that has created five turnovers heading intoThursday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers at NRG Stadium.
Reid has maintained discipline in his instinctive reactions to take away the football. He hasn’t been allowing long touchdown passes while gambling to create turnovers. Reid left the game Sunday with a knee injury, returned and then was held out as a precautionary measure. He was limited in practice Monday.
“Well I’ll tell you what, it’s been really really good,” Texans coach David Culley said. “And I told him, I say this to him all the time in practice, ‘Look, I don’t mind you being a ball hawk, as long as you are being a ball hawk in the framework of the defense,’ which means it’s OK to go get that ball as long as no balls are going over the top of you.
“And right now, he hasn’t had any balls go over the top of him, but people are starting to see that he can get a nosey in there sometimes when he sees things, because he has good football instincts. But he’s done a good job of playing what our scheme has allowed us to play and he’s been able to make some plays whether is getting interceptions or creating fumbles. That’s the kind of football player he is.”
Reid posted a video on social media of his interception against the Browns following a 31-21 road loss.
It was accompanied by a caption: ‘We win if we stay healthy. These ‘experts’ gone stop sleeping on us.’
The Texans are 1-1 and Reid’s contributions are a reason for hope about a resurgent defense that was one of the worst outfits in the league last year. Under new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, an overhauled defense is making an impact.
“I think that Justin is a fiery, fiery person,” Texans running back Phillip Lindsay said. “He wants to win. He understands what we have in this team and he understands what it takes to win.”
These are the moments Reid lives for. He’s delivering a strong message about himself in a pivotal contract year. Early in the season, Reid looks as good as he ever has. He’s fully back after undergoing thumb surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament injury that ended an extremely disappointing season prematurely last year as he was forced onto injured reserve and missed the final three games.
Reid has unfinished business on and off the field. He compartmentalizes any future contract negotiations with the Texans or other NFL teams as he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022 after his four-year, $4.063 million rookie contract expires.
Reid is due a $2.433 million base salary this year, but a blockbuster payday is ahead of him if he continues to manufacture a bounce-back season. Reid leaves the business in the capable hands of veteran NFL agent Joel Segal. So, Reid concentrates and places his full attention on intercepting passes and hard hits.
Should Reid have the kind of season he’s hoping for, the Texans could retain him on a new deal that would likely be expensive or he could cash in as a free agent.
The highest paid safeties in terms of average per year are the Denver Broncos’ Justin Simmons ($15.25 million), the Arizona Cardinals’ Budda Baker ($14.75 million), the Chicago Bears’ Eddie Jackson ($14.6 million), the Tennessee Titans’ Kevin Byard ($14.1 million), the Washington Football Team’s Landon Collins ($14 million), Mathieu ($14 million), the New England Patriots’ Devin McCourty ($11.5 million) and the Browns’ John Johnson ($11.25 million). To join that elite category in terms of pay, Reid knows he can only control what he can control: his performance.
Is it tough to concentrate with so much at stake? For Reid, the answer is very simple: Not at all.
“Honestly, no,” Reid said. “ For me, it's always been very clear. Like I'm focused on this right now. I'm going to compartmentalize everything else and I kind of tackle things as they come. When it comes to football and want to put my best ball on the field, that's always been kind of No. 1 in my head.
“Like everyone around me, I have a great support team around me and they understand how I operate and how important this is to me. They know when I'm locked into this mode I'm locked in and once I step off the field then I have time to go do everything else.”
For Reid, that means continuing to make big plays and intercept passes.
“He’s a great leader,” defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. “Obviously, he’s going to get the ball, and he’s off to a great start.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.