Though a long-term deal is not expected to be completed any time soon, the Ravens and Ray Rice are beginning to see parameters take shape that could lead to the ultimate goal of keeping the Pro Bowl running back in Baltimore in the years to come.
After the Ravens placed the franchise tag on Rice on Friday, which will pay the 25-year-old an estimated $7.7 million during the 2012 season if a long-term deal is not reached, a pair of deals have been struck elsewhere in the last 24 hours to better define the market for running backs.
On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks signed Marshawn Lynch to a four-year, $31 million deal that includes $18 million guaranteed. While there is no doubt Rice will command more money than Lynch, who has revitalized his career under head coach Pete Carroll in Seattle over the last two season, the reasonable payday does not upset the market for running backs in the way the deal reached between the Carolina Panthers and the inconsistent DeAngelo Williams (five years, $43 million) did last year.
A better gauge for establishing Rice’s market came into focus Monday when the Houston Texans and 2010 NFL rushing champion Arian Foster agreed to a five-year, $43.5 million contract that includes $20.75 million guaranteed. ESPN reports Foster will receive $18 million in 2012 and $30 million over the first three years of the contract.
Strictly looking at Foster and Rice from a production standpoint in 2011, the two compared favorably as Foster collected 141.61 total yards per game in 13 contests while Rice averaged 129.25 yards from scrimmage in 16 games last season. Foster has averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his three-year career (659 rushing attempts) while Rice holds a 4.6 yards-per-attempt average in 959 carries over four seasons.
While many will make the argument that Foster is the better player — and would presumably deserve to make more money — a deeper look at each situation suggests Rice and agent Todd France will likely command more in negotiations. While the Texans discussed using the franchise tag as the Ravens chose to do with Rice, Foster was only a restricted free agent and held less leverage as a result.
If a long-term agreement was not reached, Houston would have elected to place a first-round tender of an estimated $2.85 million on Foster, which would have forced potential suitors to not only sign the running back to an offer sheet but to forfeit a first-round pick to the Texans had they refused to match the offer. Given the affordability of a first-round draft choice under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement and the potential scenario of completing the heavy lifting of negotiating a deal only to have the controlling team decide to match the offer, many teams avoid dealing with restricted free agents.
In other words, if Foster’s side had balked at the long-term offer, he likely would have been playing for less than $3 million in 2012 before becoming an unrestricted free agent next year. The Ravens never held that luxury with the unrestricted Rice, leading to the franchise tag and the drawn-out negotiations that are sure to follow.
With Foster receiving just under $21 million in guaranteed cash, it will be interesting to see how serious France and Rice are about working out a fair deal. If Rice’s side is truly after Adrian Peterson money ($36 million guaranteed in a seven-year, $100 million contract) or even a deal comparable to Chris Johnson’s ($30 million guaranteed as part of a four-year, $53 million extension signed last September), general manager Ozzie Newsome will be more than willing to wait it out.
A contract slightly higher than Foster’s seems like a fair compromise for both sides. The Ravens will not overpay simply because the Minnesota Vikings and the Tennessee Titans handed out questionable contracts, and Rice’s agent France will have a difficult time convincing anyone that his client deserves to be paid significantly more than Foster.
One thing is certain despite continued suggestions to the contrary: the Ravens have made it clear they fully intend to keep Rice’s services for the long haul.
“As we have in the past, placing the franchise designation on a player allows us to keep negotiating on a long-term contract,” Newsome said on Friday. “Our goal is to keep Ray Rice a Raven. We’ve done this with other outstanding players through our history, including Haloti Ngata a year ago.”
Though plenty of work still remains, the means for making that happen appear to be a little clearer with Foster’s contract now settled.