“The other thing is, we talk about a running back's workload,” Schatz said. “What we've found is that when you measure a running back's workload, carries matter much, much, much more than touches do. … By splitting his workload between carries and receptions, he's taking less physical punishment. … The way it's divided, he's not anywhere near the danger zone.”

Rice, who trails Lewis by 3,424 yards on the franchise's all-time rushing list, has averaged 284 carries in his three seasons as a starter. Lewis, who recently joined the tidal wave of concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL, averaged 335 in his first three seasons.

And while workhorse running backs who average more than 20 carries a game — like Lewis in his prime — are becoming, in his words, “ancient dinosaurs,” he feels Rice deserves a new deal.

“He can run the ball. He can catch. I've seen him block. He's a good blocker. He's one of those guys that can stay in the game the whole time,” said Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season.

So what's a fair deal for Rice? His 2010 and 2011 statistics compare similarly to those of the Houston Texans' Arian Foster and the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy, who both were rewarded with five-year contract extensions this offseason. Foster's was for $43.5 million and McCoy's for $45 million. According to reports, Foster received $20.75 million in guaranteed money and McCoy got $20.765 million.

But Rice and his agent, Todd France, could be pursuing a contract like the ones the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson and the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson got last offseason. The Vikings made Peterson the NFL's highest-paid back with a seven-year, $100 million deal that includes $36 million guaranteed. Johnson got $53.5 million over four years with $30 million guaranteed.

“You have that sort of elite level of running back contracts in the $30 million guaranteed range, and then you have another tier with recent deals in the $21 million guaranteed range,” Brandt said. “That $9 million is a big difference. ... Is there a happy medium?”

A day before the deadline, the width of the gap between the player and the team is unknown. The Ravens have a policy of not discussing player contracts, and a call to France was not returned.

On Friday evening, Rice, who was hosting an anti-bullying outreach event in Columbia, declined to discuss specifics about the negotiations but said he is “always optimistic.”

“God has put me in a position where not too many people can say they've been,” Rice said. “I never played for the dollars and all of that other stuff. My rookie contract, quite frankly, you just signed it and go play football, so this is a little bit difference of an experience for me.”

It's unclear whether Rice will sign his franchise tender if he doesn't get a long-term deal by Monday or if he will hold out from training camp, which starts next week. He said last month at Lardarius Webb's charity softball game that he hoped to be back with this teammates soon.

Anthony Allen, Damien Berry and rookie Bernard Pierce will keep the backfield warm for Rice if he does hold out. But Allen acknowledged at last month's minicamp that “this is Ray Rice's team.”

First things first; though, A deadline awaits Rice and the Ravens on Monday — 10 days before Rice is scheduled to report for training camp up in Owings Mills. There has been no evidence that the sides are close to a deal as they approach Monday's deadline. But negotiations like this often go down the wire, as was the case last season before the Ravens signed defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to his extension.

“Deadlines spur actions,” says Brandt, who has been on both sides of the bargaining table.

“It happens in most deals. It happened in the [collective bargaining agreement] a year ago. And I sense it will happen here,” he said. “I don't know the gap specifically, but if it's something that can be bridged, I think they will go the extra mile to bridge it. If not, then we're back to the one-year deal and the thing is almost put on hold again until next offseason.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.