The questions keep coming regarding running back Ray Rice and what actions the Ravens can potentially take in response to his troubling legal situation, but the realities are clear in terms of his contract and the salary cap.
At least for now.
This isn’t about debating whether the Ravens should release Rice as you’ve likely already formulated your position on the alleged domestic altercation between him and fiancée Janay Palmer based on what’s known to this point. General manager Ozzie Newsome said earlier this week that Rice remained in the team’s plans for 2014 and while the organization is taking the situation very seriously, there remains no indication that they plan to cut the 27-year-old as of now.
The Ravens have a history of staying the course with players dealing with legal problems, and there’s no reason to believe this incident would be any different despite their obvious concerns and displeasure with their starting running back.
But if more damning evidence surfaces that’s worse than the troubling video released by TMZ on Wednesday and the Ravens would determine they simply cannot proceed with Rice as a member of the organization, the salary cap won’t do them any favors as was discussed at the start of the offseason when his career-worst 3.1 yards per carry average in 2013 appeared to be his biggest problem.
Rice carries an $8.75 million cap number for the 2014 season, which includes a $4 million base salary and a $4.75 million figure that’s the prorated portion of the signing bonus and option bonus paid in the first two years of his contract. The decision to cut Rice would excuse the Ravens from paying his $4 million base salary, but the hit in dead money would be devastating to their cap.
Because Rice’s contract runs through the 2016 season, releasing him now would cause the $14.25 million in prorated bonus hits over the next three years to count entirely against this year’s cap. In other words, instead of counting for $8.75 million against the cap should he remain on the roster, Rice’s exit would eat up an additional $5.5 million in cap space for a total of $14.25 million on the 2014 cap, making him more costly to jettison than to keep.
That proposition does become a little more palatable with Thursday’s news of the 2014 salary cap increasing to $130 million — currently leaving the Ravens with just under $20 million in room — but it would still be a crippling blow for a team needing to address multiple positions this offseason. If they felt they had no choice but to cut Rice, a post-June 1 designation would clear $4 million in cap space (his scheduled base salary) from his current 2014 number of $8.75 million, but those savings wouldn’t arrive until the summer when the offseason is essentially over and would leave a whopping $9.5 million in dead money on the 2015 salary cap.
There’s just no positive outcome to cutting Rice this offseason from a salary-cap standpoint.
Some have posed the idea of the Ravens trying to void his contract due to a morals clause, but that only provides the grounds for cutting a player due to bad behavior, which only means they wouldn’t have to pay his base salary. The ramifications of the signing bonus would remain on the books, which is the more critical piece at work in the discussion.
For context, it’s worth noting that the New England Patriots remain on the hook for a $7.5 million cap hit in 2014 for former tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was released by the organization and charged with first-degree murder last June.
The only course of action that could result in the Ravens receiving some financial forgiveness in terms of the signing bonus would be to keep Rice for the 2014 season and await the possibility of him missing games due to jail time or a suspension from the league. Not only would the Ravens receive cap credit for the prorated portion of his base salary that meets the number of games missed, but the organization would have the right to recover a portion of his signing bonus coinciding with the length of the suspension.
Teams have the same option to try to recover bonus money if a player abruptly retires or holds out, which would also qualify as what’s known as a “forfeitable breach,” a term that became commonplace during the Aaron Hernandez murder investigation last summer. The Ravens could have elected to use the same language in trying to recover money from linebacker Terrell Suggs two offseasons ago when he tore his Achilles tendon because of a non-football activity, but they likely elected not to do so because of the long-term fallout it often creates in the working relationship.
These factors point to there being little chance of the Ravens parting ways with Rice this offseason unless what’s already been a troubling story grows uglier in the coming weeks and the organization concludes that it has no choice but to terminate their relationship with the three-time Pro Bowl running back.
For now, the Ravens appears to have few choices but to sit back and hope for the best for all involved parties.