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Ray Rice is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the organization’s brass made it clear Wednesday that they have no intentions of letting him walk away.
The Ravens’ hope is to get Rice signed to a new long-term contract in the next few months, before the team has to use the franchise tag.
“We would like to have a deal done with Ray before we get have to put the tag on him,” General Manager Ozzie Newsome said Wednesday at the team’s season-ending press conference.
The Ravens can start negotiating a new deal with Rice at any point, but if they aren’t able to agree to new contract terms with him, then the franchise tag will be put to use.
“Ray is an unrestricted free agent, so obviously the franchise mechanism has to come into play,” team Owner Steve Bisciotti said.
Franchising Rice effectively signs him to a one-year deal that pays him the average salary of the five highest paid running backs in the NFL. The Ravens could then negotiate a long-term contract with him at a later date, which is what they did with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata heading into last season.
The Ravens have between Feb. 20 and March 5 to apply the franchise tag to him.
Signing Rice to a new contract rather than franchising him, however, would give the Ravens more salary cap room this offseason to sign other players. Using the franchise option on Rice now would be more of a hit against the team’s salary cap for this year.
“[Signing Rice to a new contract] does give us flexibility to go and do some other things with some other players,” Newsome said. “The agent knows that, too, so we have to balance that.”
The running back played last season in the final year of his rookie contract and went on to have the best season of his career. He was selected to his second Pro Bowl and was the only player in the NFL to net more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
Whether it was rushing or catching passes out of the backfield, Rice was the focal point of the Ravens’ offense, and Bisciotti emphasized that he likes the direction the offense is headed.
“I think we’re making improvement,” Bisciotti said.
In addition to re-signing Rice, one of the Ravens’ other top priorities this offseason is starting to negotiate a new deal with quarterback Joe Flacco, who is heading into the final season of his rookie contract.
Even though the negotiation process could be a challenge, Bisciotti was adamant that both players will be back in Baltimore next season.
“Ray and Joe Flacco will be part of this football team next year, guaranteed.” Bisciotti said.