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Contract negotiations usually resemble a desert cactus – dry and prickly – but that was a pretty lush and juicy piece of drama that played out Monday in Owings Mills.
The clock was ticking toward an ugly ending to the Ray Race Franchise Tag Saga, with Rice (according to his agent) possibly sitting out training camp and maybe even games to express his displeasure over not getting the long-term deal he wanted. There was no sense that a happy ending was in the offing.
But then Rice’s running buddy, Vonta Leach, tweeted that good things were about to happen, and Rice suddenly materialized at the team’s training facility. Just minutes before the deadline to strike a deal, Rice was seen hugging people in the parking lot, his trademark sunny smile glistening in the summer sunshine.
Just in time, the saga had the right ending … right for all involved. Rice had the big payday he wanted and deserved, the Ravens had the services of their No. 1 offensive engine locked up for years, and all of Ravenstown had a bona fide morale-boosting development to celebrate – badly needed going into training camp in the wake of Terrell Suggs’ injury.
Who needed it more? One could argue that the Ravens pretty much had to have Rice happy and on the field in 2012, especially with Suggs out. With their offense experiencing consistency issues as it was in 2011, they needed their bulwark and centerpiece to be in place, on top of his game and producing at the maximum rate. The Ravens just don’t have enough consistent playmakers otherwise.
But the Ravens didn’t let that stop them from playing tough with Rice in these negotiations. Their approach added tension and roiled some bad blood, but they had to do it. That’s their job.
It would have been a lot easier if they had heeded their fans crying out, “Just pay the man!” Sure, no problem … just like the Minnesota Vikings paid Adrian Peterson an astounding $100 million and just like the Tennessee Titans paid Chris Johnson $13 million a year in deals those teams quickly regretted because of injury (in Peterson’s case), performance (in Johnson’s case) and the long-term, salary-cap implications.
The Ravens owed it to themselves to play tougher. The fans beseeching them to pay Rice will move on to other issues now that he is locked up, but the Ravens have to live with this contract for the next five years under the cap. They had to get what they wanted, walking the tightrope of paying Rice what he deserved while also preserving cap space, which governs all in today’s NFL.
It certainly appears they got it right in the end … right for all involved.
In the months leading up to Monday, there was an interesting conversation about whether teams should ever give big money to running backs, given the beatings they take and their relatively short life spans as top producers. It’s a fair question, especially since a fair share of teams experience buyer’s remorse after paying their backs.
But Rice is the right kind of player, person and running back to invest in. He’s versatile, able to wins games as a receiver or a rusher. He’s durable, having barely missed a snap with the Ravens. He’s consistent, having surpassed 1,200 yards on the ground for three straight years.
On top of all that, he’s just 25. Yes, he has carried a heavy load for three years, which is worrisome, as there are all sorts of metrics indicating that backs fall off badly after a certain age. But Rice has good years to go before he reaches that threshold. He’s still in his prime – right in the middle of it.
Most importantly, he’s the consummate pro, an insatiable workout fiend who keeps himself in top shape and burns to win.
If I’m handing over millions to a player, I want to know if he cares; if his nature is such that he might slack off once he gets paid. Believe me, it’s a common concern.
But the Ravens don’t have to worry about Ray Rice. He’s made of the right stuff and deserves the big, dramatic moment he experienced Monday.