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Even if Ray Rice has to play under the franchise-tag designation in 2012, he will earn $7.7 million, which, as he said in December, “is a lot more than I ever had.”
And I believe he will eventually land that long-term contract extension he wants, making him one of pro football’s best-paid running backs.
In other words, you don’t need to feel sorry for Rice.
But as these situations go, he’s not in a great spot. He’s abstaining from the Ravens’ offseason program because he has a certain dollar figure in mind, and well, the Ravens aren’t going to give it to him.
They’re pretty disciplined when it comes to these things. They let Chris McAlister play under the tag for a year, then put the tag on him for a second year before he finally signed. They also let Terrell Suggs play under the tag for a year and applied the tag for a second year before he signed.
They’re willing to wait to get what they want, in other words.
That’s not to say they’re going to lowball Rice and put the screws to a player who has done everything they asked. No one accuses the Ravens of being cheap when it comes to paying their top players. Ed Reed’s $44.5 million deal in 2006 made him the game’s highest-paid safety. Haloti Ngata’s $61.5 million deal in 2011 deal made him the game highest-paid non-quarterback.
But as terrific as Rice is, they’re not going to similarly bust barriers with his deal.
The Minnesota Vikings set the high end of the running back market last year when they gave Adrian Peterson a seven-year, $100 million deal with $36 million guaranteed. Peterson is great, but that was crazy money. In the wake of that deal, Tennessee’s Chris Johnson landed a six-year deal with $30 million guaranteed.
After leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year, Rice has a right to ask for something in the same neighborhood. But the Ravens can argue that Peterson has scored 38 more touchdowns than Rice despite playing just one more NFL season, and Johnson has rushed for 1,300 more yards in the same number of seasons (four).
The running back market has since “corrected” to a degree with Houston’s Arian Foster getting a five-year deal with $20.75 million guaranteed and Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy getting five years with $20.76 million guaranteed since the end of last season. Rice has better stats and a longer track record than both players, and should get more.
It would appear there’s a sweet spot somewhere between Johnson’s deal and those for McCoy and Foster – say, $25 million guaranteed, give or take a few pennies.
That’s a nice deal, but Rice probably wants more, which is why he remains unsigned.
The Ravens would love to make him happy, no doubt. He is the complete package, not just a productive player but a developing leader with a wonderful upbeat nature that makes him invaluable in the community as well as in the locker room. At 25, he has big years remaining.
But the Ravens’ salary-cap situation is already tight, and while signing Rice would give them short-term relief, they have to live with the deal long term as part of their cap puzzle, so they can’t be generous just for the sake of it.
Then there is this to consider: The very value of a running back in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Even in Baltimore, where the running game has long ruled, things are changing.
In the six years before Rice became a starter in 2009, the rushing game constituted 41.81 percent of the Ravens’ offense. That figure has dropped over five percent since Rice became the starter in 2009. The running game has been 36.67 percent of the offense.
In other words, the Ravens are passing more and more, just like everyone else. And that trend will only accelerate as Joe Flacco becomes more established.
Rice, of course, is hugely valuable in the passing game as well. The Ravens badly need their versatile game-breaker, and with their record of locking up the cornerstone players they want, they’ll probably get him.