Market for Ray Rice might not develop until 2015

Though Ray Rice is now cleared to return to the NFL, there remains lingering doubt about whether any team will be interested in a 27-year-old running back who hasn't played in a game of any significance since last December.

Several former NFL executives, coaches and current league insiders told The Baltimore Sun in recent days that Rice will get another chance but the disgraced former Raven most likely will have to wait until the 2015 season.


"I think it's going to be tough for him to get his first crack at it in 2014," said former Ravens executive and Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage. "I would tend to think that there would be — for lack of a better term — a cooling off period for him to reprove himself. But we're a country of second chances and I do think he'll get another opportunity."

Rice has been suspended all season, following his arrest in February for assaulting his then-fiancee and now wife, Janay Palmer, in an elevator of an Atlantic City Casino. The Ravens released Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and he was suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Sept. 8, the day the elevator video of him striking Palmer surfaced.


Former U.S. District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones, an arbitrator selected to hear Rice's appeal, ruled today that he should be reinstated. However, for Rice, there remains the not-so small matter of convincing teams that he is worth taking a chance on despite the potential fallout and criticism of adding such a maligned player.

"You have to be willing to understand that it's going to be a PR hit for a little bit, but I think you reason that as bad as the video was, they do their time for what they've done wrong," said former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager and ESPN analyst Mark Dominik. "He's still, from everything I've heard or know, gotten support from his wife to play and they are still together. I would sit there and have a lot of conversations, talk to ownership and you go through it. But Ray Rice is a good football player. I would expect him back in the league, but it may not be until 2015."

Dominik acknowledged that the conversation between a general manager and an owner about why the respective team should take a chance on Rice is a difficult one to have. The opinion of sponsors, local charities with ties to the team, fans, and of course, coaches, players and team employees could all come into play.

"You have to step back and sit there and look at it from the judicial process as well and say, 'If he's owned up to what the courts say it should be and if he's owned up to the suspension that Roger Goodell says it should be, and he's reinstated, I think a person should have the right to play,'" Dominik said. "It might be a little bit easier to do it in the offseason than during the regular season, but it also could be a situation where a team is so close to the playoffs and their top back goes down."

Several playoff contenders, including the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, have all lost key running backs to injuries in recent weeks. However, no teams have come forward to this point and said that they have interest in Rice.

Rice obviously would bring a ton of baggage, but it's also difficult for an idle running back to join a team this late in the season and make an impact.

Savage said it will probably take a lot more than just an injury for Rice to get a second chance.

"It's difficult because everything was so public and there's just a negative connotation before you ever even get started," he said. "The other thing that will have to happen, I think, is another organization will have to have a coach, a personnel man, a former Ravens' player, somebody in their building that can vouch for Ray Rice as a teammate, as a person, as a player. That would help. Usually, in these sorts of situations, a player has a sponsor — if you will — at another team or in another organization."


Although owner Steve Bisciotti told The Sun in December that Rice would never play for the team again, several Ravens officials and players have expressed support for the running back and voiced hope that he returns to the NFL.

By all accounts, Rice has stayed in shape and is anxiously awaiting another opportunity to play and prove himself again. In the 2013 season, he never looked healthy or in optimal physical condition and it showed as he rushed for just 660 yards and four touchdowns on 214 carries.

"Football-wise, he still has something to contribute," said former Ravens head coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick. "I don't think he's a top back in this league anymore, but he's a solid back and there's always going to be a need."

Billick expressed hope that Rice gets another opportunity.

"Just because, we all love a redemptive story, we all love to give second chances," Billick said. "Ray, separate of this incident, has been a model citizen. I have no doubt that Ray will do the things that he needs to do to be that guy going forward."