Whew! Rice Signs Five-Year Deal During Final Minutes
FOR SECOND STRAIGHT YEAR, IT WENT DOWN TO THE WIRE
By Joe Platania
This week, Ravens season-ticket holders have begun to see their highly coveted admission ducats arrive in the mail. Considering what almost didn't happen Monday afternoon, they could have become collectors' items.
That's because those tickets could have represented the final home games played by running back Ray Rice in a purple uniform. But Rice and the Ravens agreed to a long-term contract reportedly five minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline.
According to published reports, Rice will be under contract until the end of the 2016 season thanks to a five-year, $40 million deal ($24 million guaranteed), one that will pay him base salaries of $17 million during the first year and $8 million during the second.
Negotiations between Rice's agent, Todd France, and a team of Ravens negotiators that included team capologist Pat Moriarity, intensified during the last half hour.
Fullback Vonta Leach tweeted at 3:28 p.m. that "there would be good news," despite the fact that negotiations seemed dead in the water. Another tweet, at 3:51 p.m., indicated that the sides were "closing in" on a contract, a mere five minutes after Rice was spotted entering the Under Armour Performance Center.
Once the deal was done, Rice reportedly left the UAPC to celebrate with his family.
It marked the second straight year Baltimore had to go down to the wire before signing a franchise free-agent to a contract that would provide long-term security for both the player and the team. The same high-wire act took place last year with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
If Rice hadn't agreed to terms, it would have made Rice a leading candidate for next year's franchise designation; any given player is eligible to be franchised three total times during his career.
But the Ravens, projected to have a relatively paltry $15 million in cap room, avoided having to deal with a multitude of problems.
Would the Ravens have franchised Rice again, or would most of that cap room have gone to quarterback Joe Flacco, who is going into the final season of his five-year rookie deal? What about free safety Ed Reed, who is also set to play the last year of a 2006 contract extension?
Not only that, the mercurial Reed has hinted at a training-camp holdout, an option that would have also been available to Rice to keep him free from injury until the final preseason game or the regular season begins Sept. 10.
In any event, the Ravens are able to franchise only one player per year, meaning that either Flacco or Reed could be hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent if the team doesn't get a long-term deal done with either player.
Plus, if Reed -- who is hosting his annual youth football camp at Stevenson University this week -- decides that he is healthy and willing enough to play this year and next, his situation is one that also must be addressed.
(According to a published report, Reed -- who is to make $7.2 million in base salary this year -- warmly greeted new defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who appeared at the Stevenson camp.
(Curiously, Reed said, "I wasn't sure who (Pees) was," despite the fact Pees has already been on the Ravens' staff as a linebackers coach the past two seasons.)
Also, with the salary cap -- which rose only $225,000 this year, to $120.6 million -- expected to rise not much more than that next year, the number of superstars wanting new deals could put the Ravens in a tight financial bind.
Entering the weekend, there were eight noteworthy players around the league that were facing the franchise-tag long-term contract deadline. Five of them got deals done, including Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, the only player besides Rice at that position that was tagged.
Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees signed their deals on Friday, and Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee, Rice and Forte were inked on Monday.
Players that are now relegated to playing under the tag include San Francisco 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, Kansas City wideout Dwayne Bowe and Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril.
The parameters on Forte's deal, a reported four-year, $32 million contract, seem a bit lower than what Rice has been reportedly requesting, a contract between $9 million and 10 million per year. Forte can hit the open market a year earlier than the Bears may have wanted, but the team doesn't seem to be overpaying for his services.
Not only that, Forte will turn 27 years old before the end of the season and is nearly two years younger than Rice. Forte has also had knee injury issues, while Rice has missed only three games -- all during his rookie season, before he was named the full-time starter in 2009 -- since he was the Ravens' second-round draft pick in 2008.
Therefore, the only recent running back contracts that seem comparable to what Rice could have wanted are that of 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).
If the Ravens and Rice had not agreed to a long-term deal before the deadline, it could have put the team in a situation that isn't exactly unfamiliar.
As stated, Rice would have been eliglble for another franchise tag, a scenario that presented itself to cornerback Chris McAlister and linebacker Terrell Suggs. They were both franchised for two straight seasons because of the same dilemma, and both eventually signed long-term deals.
The only Raven to get a franchise tag and not sign a long-term deal in Baltimore was the first-ever franchised Raven, guard Wally Williams. After his 1998 season here -- which featured a training-camp holdout -- he inked a contract with the New Orleans Saints.
Before last weekend, despite Flacco's mostly positive resume and Reed's superstar status, it could be argued the Rice dilemma was the team's most pressing priority. That distinction now passes to Flacco.
But the Ravens, a team that has struggled to find a consistent and flexible offensive attack for most of its history, have found all the qualities they have ever desired 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 have signed Rice away from the Ravens, even after the just-expired deadline, but it would have had 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 (7,801) on the team's all-time list -- has done during four short seasons, maybe another franchise would have considered it worth its while.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2009, Rice -- who sparked Baltimore to an 11-0 record when he had 18 or more carries last year -- has accounted for almost 4 of every 10 yards from scrimmage the team 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 have been hard to replace, especially because 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 in 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 (2235).
That's why many fans seemed nervous as the clock ticked down on Rice's negotiations.
But because the deal got done, it makes this year's season tickets a more precious commodity than ever.
Posted July 16, 2012