Last season, Ray Rice accounted for nearly 40% of the Ravens’ offense. Joe Flacco, then, accounted for most of the remaining 60%. One year from now, the Ravens might enter training camp without either key contributor.
Rice, who led the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage, received the franchise tag in March and is scheduled to earn $7.7 million in 2012. The Ravens have until Monday at 4:00 PM to sign a long-term deal with the two-time Pro Bowl running back. Rice, otherwise, must play the 2012 season under the franchise tag, or he can sit out the season. Either way, the Ravens cannot sign him to a multi-year deal until the 2012 season has ended.
The Ravens have a history of signing their franchise players right before the deadline. Specifically, they signed Terrell Suggs in 2009 and Haloti Ngata in 2011. Suggs received a 6-year deal worth $66 million with $33 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid linebacker in league history at the time. Ngata signed a 5-year contract worth $61 million with $40 million in the first two years.
Ideally, the agreement with Rice could be reached by the Monday deadline. If so, a multi-year deal would give the Ravens some salary cap relief because Rice’s bonus would be pro-rated over the length of his contract.
If Rice doesn’t reach a long-term agreement with the Ravens, however, he would join Flacco as an unrestricted free agent at the end of this coming season. The Ravens, in turn, would be hard-pressed to choose between Flacco and Rice to franchise: Flacco has greater long-term value and less injury-risk, but he will almost certainly command a larger contract than Rice. The Ravens, moreover, not only have limited depth at quarterback and running back but also face serious salary cap issues. In fact, only a few NFL franchises under the salary cap currently have less money to spend than the Ravens. Next year, the salary cap number is expected to only increase slightly beyond its current value of $120.6 million.
The Ravens’ other alternative after the end of the upcoming season is to re-structure contracts of other players to clear salary cap space. The Steelers, for example, have recently revised deals with Ben Roethlisberger and Lamar Woodley. In that case, the Ravens could sign Rice to a long-term deal and, assuming they don’t reach an extension with Flacco, franchise their quarterback.