The Ravens, Ray Rice & the Chris Johnson Effect

September 02, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

It appears that the Ravens can now officially start worrying about Chris Johnson. Johnson agreed to a 4-year contract extension with the Tennessee Titans on Thursday, ending his holdout and putting him on course to be ready (they hope) for the beginning of the season, and therefore for the Titans week 2 match-up with the Ravens.

Johnson though, by ending his holdout may be causing sleepless nights for a number of Ravens not because of the prolific skills he brings to the field but because of the money he’s set to earn, and because that will somehow establish the basis on which Ray Rice will likely begin negotiations with the Ravens at season’s end.

 

At the very least the contract might influence the franchise tag number if indeed the Ravens decide to use the tag to retain Rice. I say might for two reasons. The first being that we’re still playing catch up with the new CBA and its specifics. The second, and probably most important as it relates to Rice is that what Johnson signed is simply an extension, one that will take effect in the 2013 season. Johnson as a first round draft pick in 2008 signed an initial 5-year deal, and the extension he just signed picks up where that contract leaves off. As yet I haven’t seen any reports as to how much of the new money (if any) he’ll see before 2013.

 

Side Note: We have long been conditioned to believe that the only guaranteed money in the NFL is bonus money. That has led teams in an effort to puff out their chests and the media in sensationalizing the contract details to refer to all bonus money as guaranteed money. That however isn’t the case. The only guaranteed money is signing bonus money. The money that teams have already paid players is guaranteed, any money players are waiting for the club to pay at a future date is not guaranteed whether that money is salary or roster bonus. Roster bonuses only get paid if you are on the roster.

 

As this relates to the Johnson signing, the guaranteed money that Johnson will get is whatever the Titans agreed to pay him now (if anything) for signing the extension. If Johnson suffers a career ending injury before the 2012 season is over he’ll see nary a nickel of the $53.5 million we’re hearing about including the “guaranteed” $30 million, minus whatever new money he collects this week. The bottom line being that the Titans may have appeased Johnson to the extent that it took to get him back into camp, but if they decide to waive him after 2 more seasons worth of wear and tear under his rookie contract, he’ll have gained nothing (and still lost a year toward free agency because of the holdout).

 

Ray Rice on the other hand, as a second round pick in 2008, signed a 4-year contract and will be getting paid (actually paid, not just promised to be paid) beginning next season. The Ravens or any other team negotiating with him will do so, now based on the framework of a very expensive Chris Johnson price tag as the jumping off point, that Johnson himself may never actually get. This happens though as the trend for forward thinking NFL teams has been to address their running back situations on the cheap. LaGarrette Blount, Chris Ivory and Arian Foster wowed us all last season, but in so doing may have shown progressive thinking GMs the blueprint for savings in the modern salary cap NFL.

 

Ray Rice is going to get paid soon. The question is whether or not it’s the Ravens who do the paying. Chris Johnson may or may not yet get paid ever, but for now he’s at least shaking up the market.

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