Lingering legends aside, Ray Rice might be the most popular and productive Raven today. One thing’s for sure…at $550K or so in the final season of his contract, Ray Rice is easily the Ravens best pound-for-pound bargain, and arguably the league’s best. One other thing that seems assured is that Rice is going to get paid. When, how much and where that happens however may not be as much of a foregone conclusion as it would seem.
This has been “the year of…” lots of things in the NFL, the year of the 5K quarterbacks, the year of the rookies, the year of the power forwards at tight end and the year of the disgruntled running back.
As running backs league wide from Chris Johnson to Frank Gore, from Matt Forte to Peyton Hillis have barked and in some cases dogged it (allegedly…and no pun intended) over their “contract to performance ratios”, Rice with arguably the strongest case of all has remained silent. Silent about the contract that is, on the field he has been anything but silent or dogged.
It’s been a running topic of conversation all season on the MobTown Sports Beat and everyone seems assured that Rice will be taken care of by the Ravens and some have speculated that there’s no reason Rice shouldn’t feel confident that the team will take care of him.
It’s all but 100% (in my mind at least) that Rice will be back next season, but under what circumstances and for how long are still debatable.
If you subscribe to the school of WWBBD (What would Bill Bellichick do?) the answer is to franchise Rice. Given Adrian Peterson’s new contract, the franchise tag will be a big number, but only for one season. Whether Rice would maintain his decorum for another season under similar (albeit more lucrative) circumstances to this one would remain to be seen as well.
In addition to Peterson’s contract, his injury will also likely factor heavily into the Ravens impending decision of whether to franchise Rice or to pay him long term money. Peterson’s injury is a not so subtle reminder of just how quickly a running back in particular can see his season (or even his career) ended. Having all of your eggs in that proverbial basket is a high-risk high reward proposition (as we learned in 2001 with Jamal Lewis’ injury).
The value of NFL running backs is on the decline, but the pay scale on the top end of the position is still rising. There are lots of Pro Bowl caliber and highly compensated running backs in the NFL watching the playoffs from home this season, and most of the league’s most productive offenses have plug and play backfields and use the running game as an afterthought for little more than window dressing it would seem at times.
Only one running back went in the first round of the last NFL draft and while still promising, Mark Ingram has done little to make teams sorry for passing on him. DeMarco Murray, taken on the second day of the draft was the league’s best rookie at the position.
One year prior, Ryan Matthews, CJ Spiller and Jahvid Best all went in the first round and all were summarily outperformed by undrafted rookies LaGarrette Blount and Chris Ivory. An undrafted practice squad player from one season earlier led the league in rushing last season and the Packers marched through the Super Bowl after losing their bell-cow in Ryan Grant and replacing him with little known and lightly regarded James Starks.