OWINGS MILLS - Ray Rice climbed into his white Mercedes and drove out of the Baltimore Ravens' parking lot Monday afternoon to celebrate after signing his five-year, $40 million maximum value contract that includes a $15 million signing bonus.
It was an emotional moment for the All-Pro running back after a compromise was reached to avoid playing the entire season under the franchise tag, beating an NFL deadline of 4 p.m. by roughly 10 minutes.
Now, Rice is due $17 million in his first year with a $2 million base salary and $25 million to be paid in the first two years. That includes a $7 million option bonus next year and a $1 million base salary.
The deal includes a $5 million escalator clause.
"Ray deserves it," Ravens fullback Vonta Leach said during a telephone interview with the Times. "It's a real positive thing."
By locking up Rice, 25, for the next five years, the Ravens have secured the dynamic centerpiece of their punishing running game.
They also avoided a potentially sticky situation where Rice could have skipped training camp and even games if a long-term deal hadn't been worked out.
The Chicago Bears signed franchise running back Matt Forte to a four-year, $31.5 million deal hours before Rice struck his deal. And Rice's contract significantly trumped Forte's, including the Bears runner's first-year total of $9.8 million this year and two-year total of $16.1 million.
Forte will make $22.7 million over three years whereas Rice will earn $29 million during that span.
"Baltimore I'm back," Rice wrote on his Twitter account. "I never left."
Rice has already been selected to two Pro Bowls in four seasons, piling up 4,377 career rushing yards and 250 receptions for 2,235 receiving yards.
No running back has had more receptions and receiving yards since he entered the league in 2008 after his consensus All-American collegiate career. He ranks ahead of Forte and New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, making him arguably the top all-purpose back in the league.
"This is another example of Steve Bisciotti's commitment to the team and to our fans to retain our core players," general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "Ray has been an integral part of us earning the playoffs in each of his four seasons, and that includes helping us get to two AFC championship games. His production on the field speaks for itself, and his leadership in the locker room is outstanding."
Rice and his agent, Todd France, finalized the deal after a last round of negotiations with Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty.
For Moriarty, this marks the second year in a row he's signed a franchise player to a long-term deal at the last minute after signing All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to a five-year, $61 million deal last fall.
The Ravens have a history of signing their franchise players, including a seven-year, $55 million contract for former cornerback Chris McAlister eight years ago.
Rice's newly-minted contract falls below recent running back deals for Arian Foster (five years, $43.5 million, $20.8 million guaranteed, $12.5 million signing bonus), LeSean McCoy (five year, $45.6 million, $20.8 million guaranteed, $8.5 million signing bonus), Chris Johnson (four years, $53.5 million, $30 million guaranteed, $10 million signing bonus) and Adrian Peterson (seven years, $100 million, $36 million guaranteed, $12 million) in terms of total money.
However, Rice's signing bonus exceeded all of those players' back-loaded deals. He also got more guaranteed money than Foster and McCoy.
His two-year total of $25 million is also superior to Foster ($23.75 million), McCoy ($12.36 million) and Johnson ($21 million).
Only Peterson with $20.25 million in the first year and $28.5 million over the first two years exceeded Rice's first-year and second-year compensation.
Rather than push for a dragged-out situation, Rice chose long-term financial security immediately with a lot of upfront money rather than risk potentially getting hurt while playing under a one-year franchise tender.
Both sides compromised to achieve a win-win situation where the Ravens get their star running back under contract for the next five years, and Rice gets the huge payday he had earned by replicating his college success in the NFL.
Rice has missed only three games in his NFL career, all during his rookie season.
Rice was originally due a $7.742 million franchise tender for this season, but now carries a $5 million salary-cap figure. The salary-cap strapped Ravens were $606,858 under the NFL salary-cap limit for the least cap space in the NFL, but now have $3.381 million available.
By signing Rice now, the Ravens won't have to deal with the potential dilemma next offseason of having their star running back and quarterback Joe Flacco be unrestricted free agents at the same time.
Ranked second in rushing yards in franchise history behind Jamal Lewis, who'll be joining the Ravens' Ring of Honor this fall, Rice gained a career-high 1,364 yards on the ground last season. He also led the NFL with 2,068 total yards from scrimmage.
Last season, the former Rutgers star also set the Ravens franchise single-season record with a total of 16 touchdowns with a dozen rushing, three receiving and one touchdown pass.
"He does everything," NFL analyst Joe Theismann said. "That's what makes Ray Rice so unique. I liken him to a more versatile Emmitt Smith."
Rice also registered a team-high 76 receptions for 704 yards and three touchdowns last season.
"Ray Rice is a borderline superstar," NFL analyst Phil Simms said. "What does he mean to the team? It's priceless. He's been a terrific pro football player. I thought he would be good, but he's even better than I thought he was."
And Rice has been heavily involved in good works off the field, including an anti-bullying event last Friday in Columbia.
"I should say something about his community efforts, I think they are almost unmatched by any player in the NFL," Newsome said. "You'd have a hard time finding a player who does more or is as serious about helping others as Ray is.
He's one of those players you can proudly say, 'He's on our team.'"
As an unsigned franchise player, Rice was absent from his teammates for the entire offseason. He remarked several times that he missed the camaraderie of his teammates.
Now, he'll rejoin them on the field next week when he reports to training camp.
"I'm always optimistic," Rice said when asked about his contract situation Friday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion. "God has put me in a position where not too many people can say they've been. 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 different of an experience for me. Needless to say, what puts a smile on my face is that no matter the money I made, I still get to go out here and kids get to see me and smile."