Advice for Rice…Wear the Tag

May 18, 2012 | Thyrl Nelson

The Ray Rice saga took another interesting turn this week when LeSean McCoy signed a 5-year $45 million contract extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. By most accounts, McCoy’s deal compares favorably to the contract signed by Arian Foster with the Houston Texans earlier this season (5 years $43.5 million). In both cases the backs stand to make about $21 million over the next 3 seasons. Guaranteed has its own meaning in the NFL salary world, but those seem to be the accepted numbers.

Rice is set to play the 2012 season under the franchise tag at $7.7 million for 1-year. That $7.7 million is guaranteed to Rice regardless of performance or injury on the day that he signs the tender. If the Ravens and Rice were unable to come to an agreement after that season and they tagged him again he’d play the following season for approximately $9.1 million. Again that money would be guaranteed on the day that he signed the tender.


There’s obviously a risk reward equation at work here. A guaranteed $20 million in hand sounds much better than $7.7 million and the chance to try again next season, especially in the world of an NFL running back, where stars are routinely chewed up and spit out by the thankless machine. Therefore Rice is asking the team to assume the risk, and commit to paying him for at least the next 3-years or so regardless of his health and performance status, essentially conceding that he’s unwilling to concede that same risk and bet on himself. In either case, for a back that’s made a little over $3 million thus far in the NFL, he’ll be getting a substantial raise.


Here’s where things get interesting for me though, and where I begin to wonder whether Rice playing hardball with the Ravens is really in his best interest, or if it’s in the best interest of his agent. Rice’s agent, after all, may or may not be his agent at this time next year; he’s looking to get paid today. Furthermore, in the encrypted language of NFL contract speak, 5 years and $50 million or 6 years $80 million, even if most of that money never gets paid out, is a substantial feather in the agent’s cap and a selling point for future clients. 


It’s easy to state the worst-case scenario when it comes to the year-to-year status of NFL players and the potential for career ending injuries. Agents get fired by players all of the time. When though, is the last time a 25-year old star running back found himself out of the league after a single down year or catastrophic injury? Teams lined up to pay Peyton Manning after multiple neck surgeries and a full season on the shelf, Michael Bush cashed in for four years $14 million after and injury riddled couple of seasons and with nowhere near the cache displayed by Rice. Short of a Napoleon McCallum or Garrison Hearst type of injury, and in this age of modern medicine it’s almost inconceivable that Rice would find himself in a position after this season where someone wasn’t willing to pay him. It’s equally inconceivable that the Ravens would be willing to let him walk for nothing after 2012. 

I’m no math whiz, but I can add. Rice is already guaranteed $7.7 million from the Ravens as long as he shows up to work this year. If he makes it through the year upright, the Ravens could franchise him again and by this time next year, before a single down or even mini-camp takes place he’d be guaranteed another $9.1 million. That’s $16.8 million as long as 2012 isn’t an outright disaster for Rice; forget about how he performs in 2013, he’ll have nearly $17 million in the bank for two seasons…period. McCoy and Foster will get $21 million for the next 3 seasons.


Let’s say at that point Rice no longer looks the part of a star. By the third year, the franchise tag probably gets too heavy for the Ravens to stomach. Rice then hits the open market as a 27-year old free agent. He’ll only need a one-year deal at $4 million to be right on par (earnings-wise) with the big splash signings this off-season. The more likely scenario is that a 27-year old Rice on the open market is easily able to get the same 5-year $45 million (adjusted for inflation) that he’s looking for today or better, while McCoy and Foster and/or their teams will still be locked into the back ends of their deals.


Rice is asking the Ravens to bet on him and assume the risk; it’s standard practice. But if he were to bet on himself and absorb that risk instead, he could wind up much richer for doing it. His agent however is unlikely to see it that way. Maybe Rice should consider this as he potentially compromises himself physically by skipping camps or workouts etc.