After weeks of speculation, the Ravens have officially placed their franchise tag on running back Ray Rice less than two weeks before he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
After leading the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage and being named to his second Pro Bowl team, Rice will now be issued the franchise tender for running backs, reported to be $7.7 million in 2012. Playing out the final year of a four-year contract he signed as a second-round pick in 2008, Rice made only $550,000 in base salary as one of the best bargains in the league in 2011.
“Obviously, I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere,” Ray Rice said following the season. “But, it’s just one of those processes where you want to wait and see what happens, and hopefully me and the Ravens come to a great long-term deal. That’s the goal. I see myself here — I’m a Raven.”
Rice becomes only the fifth player in franchise history to receive the franchise tag, joining offensive lineman Wally Williams, cornerback Chris McAlister, linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Of the previous four, only Williams failed to receive a long-term contract after receiving the designation. Given the short shelf life of running backs historically, some have suggested the Ravens should simply wait on a long-term extension for Rice and allow him to play with the tag in 2012, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has made his intentions clear when it comes to his star running back.
“We have used the franchise tag only so we can get a long-term deal,” Newsome said at the NFL rookie combine in Indianapolis last week. “We would like for Ray Rice to have a long career in Baltimore. If we have to franchise him, that would be the reason why.”
Newsome re-iterated that statement Friday.
“As we have in the past, placing the franchise designation on a player allows us to keep negotiating on a long-term contract. 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.”
The Ravens will have until July 15 to reach an agreement with Rice’s agent Todd France on a contract or Rice must play the 2012 season under the $7.7 million tender. Baltimore would have the option of using the tag again in 2013, but Rice’s 2012 salary would increase by 120 percent.
Throughout last season, Rice downplayed the significance of his expiring contract, acknowledging the business side of football and never questioning the Ravens’ commitment to him. The running back could elect to hold out during training camp if the sides fail to reach a long-term agreement in July, but history suggests the Ravens will take care of the 5-foot-8 back.
Rice has rushed for a minimum of 1,220 yards in each of the last three seasons and scored a career-high 15 touchdowns in 2011.
France and the Ravens held contract discussions in Indianapolis last weekend, but negotiations for both Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco — who has one year remaining on his deal — are expected to stretch into the late spring or summer before any potential deal is reached.
“The reality of it is those [deals] are going to take a little longer,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re going to have a lot of contract conversations and different guys we’ll be talking to and even trying to get signed. Maybe even the draft will happen. Those guys will kind of overarch that whole process.
“Ultimately, I think we all believe that those two guys will be on the team for a long time.”
Ravens make cuts official
The Ravens also announced the cuts of wide receiver Lee Evans and cornerback Chris Carr, who was told Thursday about his release from the team.
The team is also prepared to release cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who missed most of last season while still recovering from a torn ACL suffered at the beginning of training camp in 2010, but the move has not been announced as of Friday afternoon.
Evans had a $5.61 million cap number for 2012, and was set to make $3.3 million in base salary and was scheduled to receive a $ 1 million roster bonus on March 18th if he remained with the club.
Evans, 30, battled an ankle injury all season after coming over in a preseason trade with the Buffalo Bills. He appeared in nine games and started two.
He caught four passes for 74 yards and, of course, faced criticism for his key drop in the Ravens 23-20 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Carr was released one season into a four-year contract he signed last summer.
He was scheduled to receive $2.5 million in 2012.
Newsome said those two moves were difficult for him and team personnel to make.
“Each year, we have to make tough, difficult decisions to manage our roster,” Newsome said. “Chris Carr and Lee Evans were valuable Ravens, and both helped us get to the AFC Championship game and the brink of the Super Bowl last season with the way they played and the maturity they added to the locker room.”
However, Newsome said the door is not shut on either one to return to the club.
“As we talked about when we informed Chris and Lee of these moves, this does not close the door on them coming back to the Ravens.”
WNST.net’s Ryan Chell contributed to this report.