The Ravens are poised to apply the franchise tag to Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who would otherwise be set to hit the open market with the other unrestricted free agents on March 13. The Ravens have until Monday to apply the tag though Pro Football Talk reported that they are poised to do it tomorrow.
Regardless of the timing and whether it is made official tomorrow or Monday, the move is a formality. Here are a couple of things to remember when it becomes official:
The primary purpose of applying the franchise tag – at least from the Ravens’ point of view – is to buy some time in order to negotiate a long-term extension with Rice and his agent, Todd France, while making sure that the standout running back can’t hit free agency. That remains the goal this offseason, to get the 25-year-old locked up on a long-term deal. In applying the franchise tag, the Ravens now have until July 16 to reach an agreement before Rice plays under the franchise tag for the 2012 campaign. Ravens’ officials met with France last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. Both sides seem to know that these negotiations are going to take a long time, and the talks will continue after Rice is tagged. The good news for Rice is that the Ravens have a history of using the tag as a precursor to signing the “franchised” player to long-term contract extensions. Terrell Suggs, Chris McAlister and Haloti Ngata all wore the franchise tag before getting a lucrative extension from the team. Will they do the same with Rice before July 16? That remains to be seen, but at least now they have the opportunity to get it done while knowing that their best offensive player isn’t going anywhere at least for one more season.
Another piece of good news for Rice is that if a long-term extension isn’t reached before the deadline on July 16, he will be paid a salary of $7.7 million for the 2012 campaign, the projected salary number for running backs who get franchised. Rice made a base salary of $600,000 during his team-record breaking season in 2011 so obviously he is getting an enormous raise. But what he’s not getting – and it’s something that he clearly wants – is long-term security. The career span of an NFL running back isn’t very long so you can see why Rice would want a long-term commitment from the Ravens.
This is probably obvious, but I figured it was worth pointing out anyway. Teams are allowed to franchise only one player. So since Rice is the one, that means that left guard Ben Grubbs will hit the market and be able to sign with any team he pleases if the two sides cannot reach a deal by March 13, the day free agency starts. While you are only allowed to franchise one player per year, you are allowed to franchise that same player for consecutive years. So if Rice and the Ravens can’t reach an agreement on a long-term deal by July 16, we’re probably going to be talking about the same thing at this time next year.
And finally, one big question that this move spurs is whether Rice will hold out of training camp to protest the move. Only France and Rice can answer that and they’re not talking at this point. Rice knew this was coming so I can’t imagine this changes anything, at least for now. He is a total pro and he cares very much about his teammates and his perception among fans so I think an extended holdout would surprise some people. He’s also well aware of the type of season that Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson had after he sat out a chunk of training camp while immersed in a contract dispute. But I’m sure he also took heed of the potential career-threatening injury sustained by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, which could serve as Exhibit A as to why players, specifically running backs, crave long-term contract security so much.