It's Going To Be A Blue Monday Without Rice Signing
2008 DRAFTEE HAS ALMOST 40 PERCENT OF TEAM'S OUTPUT
By Joe Platania
When Monday morning dawns, most of the populace will be feeling the usual post-weekend downer as it heads back to work.
But this coming Monday could bring a different sort of depression to Ravens fans, for that is when the franchise-tag player-signing deadline will arrive (4 p.m.).
On one hand, if running back Ray Rice does not sign a long-term deal by that time, he would have to play under his $7.7 million franchise value and possibly hit the open market again next spring.
He wouldn't be playing all that much, at least not at first. Rice would be expected to hold out and miss most, if not all, of training camp at the Under Armour Performance Center, and his regular-season effectiveness would then come into question.
A published report Thursday indicated that there has been almost no movement on negotiations between Rice and the team, with the contract deadline approaching Monday and training camp set to begin July 24 for rookies and two days later for Rice and the remaining veterans.
This year, a record 21 players were hit with the franchise-player designation, which usually leads to bad feelings between a player and his team because it prevents him from hitting the open market.
Curiously, Rice and the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte are the only running backs that got the tag this year; there were five kickers and one punter on the list, including two division rivals in Cincinnati's Mike Nugent and Cleveland's Phil Dawson.
So far, 12 of 21 players have signed deals in advance of the deadline, but without Forte signing, the only contracts that could be seen as comparable to what Rice could want were signed by two non-franchised running backs, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams (five years, $43 million) and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy (five years, $45 million, $21 million guaranteed).
Besides Forte and Rice, other players whose situations will be monitored closely as the Monday deadline approaches are New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees -- who apparently will sit out part of training camp if he doesn't get signed, according to sources -- and Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril.
But if Rice misses the deadline, it wouldn't be the first time in Ravens history that this situation would be in effect; Chris McAlister and Terrell Suggs were both franchised for two straight seasons because of the same dilemma, and both eventually signed long-term deals.
If Rice falls into the same pattern as those two, the Ravens could run into a huge salary-cap problem.
Because there doesn't seem to be any movement on getting quarterback Joe Flacco signed to a long-term deal, he could also be an unrestricted free agent next March, as he would have played out his five-year rookie contract.
With Rice and Flacco as simultaneous free agents, it would effectively wipe out any salary-cap room surplus the Ravens may carry over into 2013. Plus, with the cap -- which rose only $225,000 this year, to $120.6 million -- expected to rise not much more than that next year, Ravens could be in a tight financial bind.
All of the above doesn't even take into account the Ed Reed situation, as the veteran free safety will also see his latest contract expire after the 2012 campaign.
The injury-riddled veteran, who turns 34 Sept. 11, has also indicated via Twitter that he could possibly sit out this season or retire, but his Twitter-laden dialogue has yet to sound many alarm bells within the organization, given Reed's mercurial nature.
But despite Flacco's mostly positive resume and Reed's superstar status, it can be argued the Rice dilemma is the most pressing priority.
That's because the Ravens, a team that has struggled to find a consistent and flexible offensive attack for most of its history, has found all the qualities they need in Rice, a second-round pick from Rutgers in 2008. That year's 10-man draft class, surprisingly, has just Rice and Flacco remaining on the roster today.
Theoretically, another team could sign Rice away from the Ravens, even after the July 16 deadline, but it would have to forfeit two first-round picks -- one during each of the next two years -- as compensation.
But considering what Rice -- a two-time Pro Bowl selectee who has 4,377 career rushing yards, second to Jamal Lewis (7801) on the team's all-time list -- has done during four seasons, maybe another franchise would consider it worth its while.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2009, Rice has accounted for almost 4 of every 10 yards from scrimmage the team has gained, leading the NFL in total scrimmage yards last year with a career-high 2,068. That number represented 38.1 percent of the team's total net yards in 2011.
The previous season, Rice gained 1,776 of the Ravens' 5,166 yards, a 34.3 percent output. In 2009, Rice produced a 2,041-yard output during a 5,619-yard season for the team, which comes out to 36.3 percent.
Such a production rate would be hard to replace, especially when Rice's primary backups are a second-year player (Anthony Allen), a third-round rookie (Bernard Pierce) and a 2011 practice-squadder (Damien Berry).
Rice is one of only two players in NFL history to have gained 1,200 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards during multiple seasons, the other being Hall of Fame back Marshall Faulk. His 15 touchdowns last year also set a Ravens single-season record, and his five runs of 50 or more yards led the NFL.
The effervescent 5-foot-8, 212-pound Rice also has more receptions by a running back (250) than anyone in the league since 2008, as well as the most receiving yards (2,235).
But if the signing deadline is missed and all that goes away for any length of time, Rice's smile will surely disappear ... and the fans' Monday blahs will be worse than usual.
Posted July 12, 2012