As the Baltimore Ravens creep closer and closer to the start of training camp the dark cloud hovering above Ray Rice’s contract grows bigger, but the Ravens can’t fall victim to his demands like other teams have to their running backs.
Rice, or mini-Ray as my friend Cole likes to call him, has done just about everything the Ravens have asked of him. He has carried the ball, caught the ball and blocked for the offense, but the truth is Rice isn’t any more valuable than any other offensive player. Sure, he is the running back and “the guy” for the Ravens, but he can’t put the team in a deep hole with his contract. While he may be in the right for asking for more money, as his career could end on any play, he can’t hold his team hostage now or in a few years.
In a salary cap league, one team can’t pay a single player too much just because they find them valuable. While Rice has been successful, it is not like he is the only guy to do it for the Ravens in the backfield.
Baltimore has been able to run the ball with several guys back there, including Ricky Williams and Willis McGahee in the last few years. Running backs are starting to become a dime a dozen in the NFL and the Ravens can probably find a replacement for Rice easily in the draft if he doesn’t get the contract he wants. Sure, he amassed a pretty amazing regular season last year with over 2,000 total yards from scrimmage, but in two playoff games he only had a combined 158 total yards from scrimmage. One of those came in a game against one of the league’s worst defenses in the New England Patriots as well.
It is hard to penalize a player for a single poor post season performance, but the truth is, Rice has only had one dominant playoff game, against the Pats in 2009. This Ravens team is clearly a few pieces away from going deep in the playoffs, but they also need to put it together once they get to the postseason. Maybe Rice can do that, but is it really worth severely handicapping your team’s salary situation for anything less than a sure thing?
Heck, even the Tennessee Titans thought they had a sure thing in Chris Johnson when they locked him up, only to see his production severely drop off. Johnson and Rice aren’t the same player, but one of Johnson’s biggest problems is his size and he is taller, but still lighter, than Rice is. Betting the house on one player is tough to do, especially when they aren’t guaranteed to touch the ball every down and could drop off in production at any moment.
Not only is Rice a question mark, solely due to the position he plays, but also because he can be so easily replaced. The NFL is rich with backs who came out of nowhere from late rounds or from undrafted free agency to have very successful careers. Arian Foster, Demarco Murray and LeGarrette Blount are just a few of the backs who found recent solid NFL success after being drafted in the third round or later.
Rice has been solid in Baltimore, and I am not saying the Ravens shouldn’t pay him. What I am saying though, is he isn’t worth ruining Baltimore’s shot at a top free agent, or multiple free agents, by stunting their salary cap with a bad contract. If Rice is willing to play at a reasonable cap number, bring him back. If he isn’t though, Baltimore should really consider whether or not he is indispensable. This is a promising team and the Ravens can’t risk future success on one player when there are another 21 starters to think of.