Ray Rice has reached a crossroads in his attempt to resurrect his NFL career, one year after his domestic-violence incident in an Atlantic City casino.
The former Ravens running back issued a statement to The Baltimore Sun on Friday in which he apologized for the incident and thanked fans and the Ravens, including owner Steve Bisciotti.
Rice, 28, plans to leave Maryland and move back to his home state of New York, according to sources. He has been eligible to sign with any NFL team since former federal judge Barbara S. Jones reinstated Rice in November from an indefinite NFL suspension.
Sources say Rice hasn't visited or worked out for an NFL team, but continues to train in hopes of landing another job in the NFL.
“Dear Baltimore, This is not a farewell or goodbye,” Rice wrote. “The last seven years that my family and I have spent in Baltimore have by far been the best of our lives. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all for the love and support you’ve shown my family and I throughout my football career. We’ll always be grateful for the love we’ve received from all of our fans and supporters, and for winning a Super Bowl. To all the kids who looked up to me, I’m truly sorry for letting you down, but I hope it’s helped you learn that one bad decision can turn your dream into a nightmare.
“There is no excuse for domestic violence, and I apologize for the horrible mistake I made. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, and I hope to make a positive difference in people’s lives by raising awareness of this issue. Thank you, Baltimore Ravens, for all you have done for my family and I. I’m very grateful to Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh, and everyone at 1 Winning Drive. I love you all very much, and I’ll always be proud to say I played for the Baltimore Ravens. Thank you, Ray Rice.”
Rice has been stuck in limbo since the Ravens terminated his $35 million contract in September when a graphic video surfaced of him punching his then-fiancee, now-wife, the former Janay Palmer, in an elevator. Rice was arrested on Feb. 15, 2014 in Atlantic City, N.J., and later charged with felony aggravated assault following a grand jury indictment. Rice resolved the charges without jail time when he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program.
Rice is optimistic yet realistic about his job prospects, according to sources, following a rocky year personally and professionally in which the image of him knocking out his then-fiancee ignited a national conversation about domestic violence.
Several NFL personnel sources predicted Rice will ultimately get a second chance, with one NFC general manager characterizing him as a tough sell. Many opined that Rice’s outlook could improve as other players who found trouble off the field are given second chances.
The Buffalo Bills signed offensive guard Richie Incognito this week after he was out of the league last season following his central role in the Miami Dolphins’ infamous bullying scandal two years ago. Quarterback Michael Vick relaunched his career after serving time in a federal prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring in which dogs were tortured and killed.
“It’s a league of second chances, but it’s still a tough sell for Ray,” the NFC general manager said. “I don’t think Ray will get offered a lot of money. Despite everything, I still think he’ll get a shot. There may be some upside even though his production was starting to decline. It’s a crowded market for running backs.”
DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller, Frank Gore and Justin Forsett, who replaced Rice in the Ravens’ backfield, are free agents and Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon are top NFL draft prospects.
Rice’s most recent body of work was unimpressive. In 2013, Rice’s rushing total plummeted to 660 yards — halting a streak of four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons — when hip and quadriceps injuries and playing as heavy as 225 pounds robbed him of his usual elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability. After averaging just 3.1 yards per carry in 2013, Rice was down to a lean 205 pounds during training camp last year and was noticeably quicker.
“I would be surprised if Ray doesn’t get a second chance,” said former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, a consultant for the New York Jets and an NFL Network analyst. “It all comes down to if they think he can help their team win and if he’s taken the proper measures to correct himself. Michael Vick was out of the league and it didn’t look good for him, but he showed he could change and had reformed his behavior. That’s what Ray has to do.”
NFL sources mentioned the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers as potential destinations for Rice. He has a connection to the Colts through head coach Chuck Pagano, the former Ravens defensive coordinator.
“I think it needs to be someone who’s had some past experience with Ray,” the NFC general manager said. “If I were Ray, I would try to work something out and get a job as fast as he can before all the spots start to fill up. It’s going to need to be a team that’s secure to take that leap of faith because it’s such a complicated situation.”
Rice’s future employer will likely have to brace for a negative reaction from sponsors, the community, domestic violence support and women’s groups while gauging how his presence could affect locker room chemistry.
“Because of the public outcry and Ray’s past, some people aren’t sure he’s worth signing because there’s an unknown there,” an AFC personnel director said. “He deserves a second chance, in my opinion, because there’s probably more tread left on the tire. Unfortunately for Ray, this happened at a time in his career where he’s already well down the road. A running back’s longevity has to be considered, and what happened with him and his wife.”
Rice has stayed out of trouble since the incident. He has expressed remorse about what happened several times, and he and Janay have participated in couples counseling. Still, a team will have to be convinced that the former Rutgers All-American’s issues are behind him.
“I think there’s always a road for redemption,” said Shawne Merriman, a former NFL and Maryland outside linebacker. “The NFL looks down seriously at what Ray did, and they should. It was a horrible incident and some people are less forgiving than I am, but I feel like he should get another chance. People thought Richie Incognito would never be back, and he’s back in the league.
“The stigma Ray’s carrying right now, some organizations don’t want to get involved because this is going to follow him. This is never going to go away. The only thing Ray can do is pray for another opportunity. He can’t change the past. He’s paying the price for a very ugly mistake.”
Rice has said previously he and his wife, at the appropriate time, plan to become advocates to help domestic violence groups. Many predict that kind of effort could help Rice’s transition back to the NFL.
“Someone will sign Ray because he’s not a bad football player,” former Ravens special-teams ace and assistant coach Bennie Thompson said. “He’s not what he used to be, but he can play. If you’re an average Joe with off-field problems, you’re not going to get that benefit of the doubt. Ray knows the consequences if this happens again. He’s on his last strike. To me, everybody is entitled to a second chance in life.”
Rice was offered a job Friday, but it wasn’t from an NFL team. ProDraftLeague.com offered Rice a $1 million contract to become a spokesman for their fantasy football website, contingent on Rice not being involved in another domestic violence incident. If he is, he’d be required to pay back $500,000 and pay the website another $500,000 for damaging its brand.
“We don’t condone any of the actions Ray has committed in the past, but we feel like everybody deserves a second chance,” CEO Mark Tadros said in a telephone interview. “We’ve sent him Ray an official contract and we’re waiting to hear back from him. We think he would be an awesome spokesman. We believe he’s sincere and remorseful.”