Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talks about why the team released running back Ray Rice after the video in the elevator was released. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The Ravens are standing by Ray Rice no longer.
After months of publicly supporting the much-maligned running back, the Ravens terminated Rice's contract Monday afternoon on the same day video surfaced of him striking his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, N.J. casino elevator in February.
The decision came after a morning meeting with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh.
"It was not a long meeting and we came to the decision that we came to, to release Ray," Harbaugh said at a Monday evening news conference following the team's walk-through practice. Harbaugh was the only Ravens official to comment on the move. "I had a chance to talk to Ray, along with Ozzie, this afternoon after we did it. Nothing but hope and good will for Ray and Janay. We'll do whatever we can … to help them as they go forward to try and make the best of it."
About 30 minutes after the organization announced its decision to cut Rice in a 12-word press release, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was widely criticized for initially banning the running back for only two games, said that three-time Pro Bowl selection is suspended from the league indefinitely based on "new video evidence that became available" Monday.
Monday's news capped a stunning downfall for the 27-year-old who had been one of the Ravens' most popular and productive players. Now, just two years after signing a five-year, $35 million contract extension with the organization, Rice's tenure with the Ravens is over and his NFL career is in jeopardy.
"It's definitely disappointing," said Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, who has been one of Rice's most vocal supporters on the team. "We're in a limelight position. To whom much is given, much is required. A lot of things are given to us, we have to be held to a higher standard. Obviously, he's been suspended, I guess, indefinitely. But the punishment is the punishment. It was tough what he did. You can't say the punishment doesn't fit the bill."
"Everyone is stunned," Smith added. "I know it's not a good-looking video at all."
Harbaugh met Monday and informed the players of the decision. It made for a somber environment at the team facility as the Ravens got back to work after dropping their regular-season opener, 23-16, to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens have less than four days to prepare for a nationally-televised matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, their chief rivals, on Thursday night.
Steelers-Ravens week traditionally attracts more media than what's usually at the team complex, but the number of cameras lined up outside and then in front of Harbaugh when he spoke after practice indicated that it was anything but business as usual. In fact, the number of reporters at the facility rivaled the amount that were present the week before the team departed for Super Bowl XLVII.
"I think the team responds just the way everybody responds to these things. You're talking about somebody that you know," Harbaugh said. "It's a little more challenging when you're talking about somebody who is part of your family so to speak. Our guys felt it."
Both Smith and defensive end Chris Canty grew emotional when talking about Rice's situation.
"I think everybody was stunned this morning when we woke up. It was a deplorable act," Canty said. "He made a terrible error in judgment. I think it's easy in the situation to point a finger of blame rather than extend a hand of help. Clearly, this is going to be something that they're going to need help and they're seeking help."
Rice was indicted on an upgraded aggravated assault charge on March 27 after prosecutors in Atlantic County, N.J., reviewed the case for several weeks before presenting it to a grand jury, which handed up the indictment. Rice, however, was accepted into a pre-trial diversionary program that allowed him to avoid jail time.
Rice and his wife have been getting therapy and counseling and Harbaugh said that the team had gotten positive reports about the sessions. The running back had been eligible for reinstatement on Friday morning, a day after the Steelers' game. The plan had been for him to make his season debut on Sept.21 against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
However, Bisciotti and the Ravens' decision makers no longer felt that they could afford to stand by Rice in the face of additional video evidence against the running back, and an onslaught of negative publicity. With the move, the Ravens immediately saved $3.529 million against this year's salary cap, but they now face a cap hit of $9.5 million in dead money in 2015.
"It's something we saw for the first time today, all of us. It changed things of course," Harbaugh said. "It made things a little bit different."
Asked how it changed things, Harbaugh said. "I don't know if I want to get into all the details about it. I think it's pretty obvious and pretty apparent. Everybody has seen the video. I'll just leave it that."
Back in February, TMZ put out the video of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator at the now-closed Revel casino. The video that the website published Monday showed what preceded the initial one — Rice punching his now-wife with his left hand, causing her to hit her head on the side of a rail in the elevator.
Both the Ravens and NFL said they hadn't seen the video before it came out Monday.
"We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. "That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today."
Smith and Harbaugh wouldn't say what they initially believed happened inside the elevator that February night, but the video was clearly jarring to the organization.
"I'm not going to go into what he told us, or if it matches or if it doesn't. That doesn't matter," Smith said. "What matters is what you see. … It wasn't a pleasant sight at all. We all focus on Ray, but there's still a victim in that in Janay. He's like a sister to my wife and I, so we're trying to support her just as much as Ray."
Drafted by the Ravens in the second round of the 2008 draft, the diminutive back out of Rutgers rushed for 6,180 yards and 37 touchdowns, and caught 369 balls for 3,034 yards and six touchdowns over six NFL seasons.
Rice is the Ravens' all-time leader in total yards from scrimmage (9,214) and he ranks second in franchise history behind Jamal Lewis in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
However, as the Ravens went through preparations for Pittsburgh and for the rest of the season, they did with the knowledge that Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro would be their running backs going forward and Rice's career as a Raven — and possibly in the NFL — is likely over.
"The timing is the way it is," Harbaugh said. "We have a football game to play Thursday night. We have no control over that. I don't have any feeling about that at all. It will not impact us in any way football-wise. You can't allow that. This is professional football. We'll be ready to play Thursday night."