PLEASE NOTE: The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
Ray Rice was the main catalyst for the Ravens offense last season.
He gained more yards from scrimmage than any player in the NFL, was selected to his second Pro Bowl and set personal highs in a number of categories.
But the question for Rice and the Ravens is how long he can keep up that kind of production.
“He obviously is showing no signs of slowing down and I think he is going to be a big factor for the next three or four years,” Sports Illustrated’s Peter King said at the owners meetings last week. “But then you want to put the price on him, and I think the prices on running backs are going down.”
Rice is now finding himself in a position that’s becoming a trend for NFL running backs.
He’s in the prime of his career and one of the league’s top players at his position. He just finished his rookie contract and could be in line for a big payday.
Rice will get a significant jump in pay next season, but it’s unclear if that jump will come with a long-term contract. The Ravens have already franchised him and are still trying to work out a long-term deal before the season starts. If they can’t agree on a new contract, then Rice will have to play under the one-year franchise tag, worth just over $7 million, or hold out for a bigger contract.
Rice’s contract situation is similar to others’ around the league, as Chicago is in the same negotiations with Matt Forte, who has been franchised but wants a long-term deal.
Running backs tend to have short shelf lives, lasting only three or four years before their production starts to decline; as a result, they have not been valued on the market as much in today’s passing-driven league as they once were.
“It’s like miles on a car,” King said. “That’s the key thing and I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s hard today.”
King pointed to the contract given to former Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander in 2006. He signed an eight-year deal worth about $62 million, but then suffered a drastic drop-off in production and played only three more years.
Teams are cautious to pay running backs top dollar, King said, fearing a similar kind of rapid decline.
“The problem with Ray Rice, the problem with Matt Forte, the problem with a lot of running backs is that right now teams are unwilling to look at these guys and to say ‘we can count on you for the next five years,’” King said. “That’s what I think Ray is facing.”
The other concern with Rice, King said, is the workload he sustained in college. In his final two seasons at Rutgers, Rice carried the ball 715 times.
“One of the problems with running backs, especially backs who carried a huge load in college, is that you’re always wondering how much of an impact will that college load have on a guy,” King said.
With the heavy college workload and decline in value for running backs around the league, Rice and the Ravens might not be able to work out an extension any time soon, King said.
“So that’s why he might have to play for the franchise number this year,” King said. “He might have to play for the franchise number next year.”