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State of the Ravens
3. Don't be surprised if Ray Rice's contract situation gets contentious, and if it leads to a holdout if the Ravens use a franchise tag on him.
No position in the NFL has been more devalued by general managers in recent years than franchise running back. Just look at what happened to players like Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, Ahman Green and Larry Johnson. They were great in their mid-20s, but once their odometer reached a certain mileage, they were done as elite players. They became cautionary tales.
Ray Rice knows this, which is why at age 25, he understands this might be his only real shot at a major pay day. No one is going to give him a huge contract at age 29, or if he's coming off major knee surgery. Don't think for a second he didn't pay close attention when Adrian Peterson tore his ACL this season, an injury that happened the same year he signed a deal that pays him $36 million in guaranteed money. Imagine if Peterson had been playing under the franchise tag. He would have lost millions of dollars in future earnings. Running backs know they have a smaller window than other players.
Bisciotti "guaranteed" Rice would be a member of the Ravens in 2012, but he also conceded later that he removes himself from contract negotiations because the personal relationships he has with the players make it hard to make sound business decisions. That's why he empowers Ozzie Newsome to make those difficult decisions, and Newsome has developed a well-earned reputation for playing hardball.
"I've never sat in a negotiation and I never will," Bisciotti said. "I never talked to Ray Lewis about his negotiation during that time. He and I just kind of shut off our communication, whether it's texting or a call here or there, or a dinner a year -- which we typically have in Florida -- we didn't have a dinner that year. We just kind of shut it down and let these guys do their job. It is hard, so that's why these guys [in personnel] get paid the big bucks. I don't want to be in the middle of that, because it's very difficult."
Rice and his agent have to realize they're never going to have more bargaining power than they have right now. If the Ravens attempt to offer less than what Chris Johnson and Peterson got in guaranteed money, I can't imagine it will go over well. The first day the Ravens can use the franchise tag on Rice is Feb. 20, and the deadline for applying it is March 5. Newsome said, in theory, he'd love to get a deal done with Rice before he had to use the tag, but I can't see how that's realistic. Think about how long it took the Ravens to get Haloti Ngata's deal done when he was under the franchise tag. This is not a team that rushes into major financial commitments, nor does it give in easily at the table.
As much as any player outside of Ray Lewis, Rice has become the face of the franchise in Baltimore. No one wants to see things get ugly. But don't be surprised if they do down the road.
December 11, 2011