Ray Rice's expected absence next week shouldn't be alarming

The Ravens will start their offseason workout program Monday and, as usual, the bigger story will probably be who isn’t there, rather than who is.

That’s how it is this time of year, even though the workouts are strictly voluntary and the Ravens won’t have their first mandatory veteran minicamp until June.

So when running back Ray Rice doesn’t show up – and that’s certainly the expectation – there will undoubtedly be plenty of attention paid to his absence by fans and the media.

That’s understandable because Rice’s contract situation figures to loom over the Ravens until July 16, the deadline to sign “franchise” players, like Rice, to long-term deals.  However, in reality, it would probably be more newsworthy if Rice was there.

Players dealing with unsettled contract situations traditionally don’t attend the start of voluntary offseason workouts, and Rice certainly won’t be alone in his absence. Cornerback Cary Williams, whose agent is still discussing a long-term extension for him with the Ravens, has yet to sign his restricted contract tender and probably won’t attend team workouts until his contract situation is finalized.  

NFL Network, which reported Williams’ expected absence, also reported today that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker and Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe – all players franchise by their respective teams – aren’t expected to show up to their team’s facilities next week either.

Rice, who has said on several occasions that he wants and deserves a long-term deal rather than playing the season under the $7.7 million franchise tag, is certainly in no rush to sign his tag.

While the Ravens have had some talks with Rice’s agent, Todd France, the two sides aren’t anywhere close to a deal and that’s not expected to change until we get much closer to the July 16 deadline. And there is obviously a common belief that a player, in the midst of contract negotiations, loses significant leverage and puts himself at risk by engaging in workouts or football activity at their team’s complex.

Rice has attended offseason workouts in the past, but not under the backdrop of potentially difficult contract negotiations between him and the Ravens. So the more appropriate question next week probably should be not if the running back stays away, but for how long.

And Rice clearly won’t be the only Ravens veteran not in Owings Mills next week. Some players like to stay where they are in the offseason and work out with their personal trainers.

Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Anquan Boldin haven’t always attended the start of voluntary workouts in the past. But like with Rice, the Ravens have little doubt that those players are working hard to prepare for the season and will be ready to go when they have to be in Owings Mills.  

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