Five months after the Ravens terminated Ray Rice's $35 million contract, a wrongful termination grievance hearing is set for Thursday and Friday to determine whether the three-time Pro Bowl running back is entitled to back pay.
The hearing will be held at an undisclosed location in Maryland that's convenient for the Ravens and Rice and will be heard by NFL system arbitrator Shyam Das.
Rice is seeking $3.529 million, the amount he lost in nonguaranteed base salary when he was cut by the Ravens on Sept. 8. That happened hours after a graphic video surfaced of him knocking out his fiancee, Janay Palmer — now his wife — in a casino elevator in Atlantic City, N.J.
The roster move was followed quickly by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell indefinitely suspending Rice after originally suspending him for two games, a decision overturned in November by former federal judge Barbara S. Jones.
Among the arguments Rice and his representatives are expected to cite, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, is Article 46 of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, which prohibits an NFL player from receiving more than one punishment for a single violation. It's intended to guard against the legal concept of double jeopardy.
The Rice camp is also expected to argue that the Ravens cut him only because of the significant public outcry caused by the video's release, which triggered a national conversation about domestic violence and heavy criticism of the NFL.
"I've always thought this would be a tough one for Rice to win because teams have a wide amount of latitude to cut players," said Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who writes about the business of football for National Football Post. "They can argue it's a classic case of double jeopardy, that it's excessive and punitive after he was already disciplined once. The Ravens can say, 'We had a legitimate reason to cut him based on how he played in 2013 when he wasn't as productive and wasn't healthy.'"
Rice rushed for 660 yards and averaged 3.1 yards per carry in 2013 while dealing with hip and quadriceps injuries and playing anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds over his usual playing weight.
"One thing the Ravens could say is 'we became comfortable with our running back situation after we saw them in live action,'" Corry said. "They could even act like they had a crystal ball about how Justin Forsett would do and knew he would be successful. If they say they cut Ray because of the public outcry and how it affected the team's reputation, it could play into his argument. But I would be very surprised if they did that. That's dangerous territory for the Ravens."
Because this is a legal matter, the Ravens and Rice's representatives have not commented on the proceedings.
Rice will be represented by NFL Players Association lawyers and veteran New York attorney Peter Ginsberg, who successfully represented him during his reinstatement hearing. Ginsberg represented former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma in the Bountygate scandal, Maryland basketball star Dez Wells in his lawsuit against Xavier University and PGA golfer Vijay Singh.
The 96-page investigative report from former FBI director Robert Mueller III concluded the Ravens had a significant amount of information about the domestic violence incident, which was described by Atlantic City police to Ravens director of security Darren Sanders.
Sanders, currently on paid leave due to allegations of a fourth-degree sexual offense, briefed general manager Ozzie Newsome, team president Dick Cass and coach John Harbaugh in March following Rice's felony aggravated assault arrest, according to Mueller. The report also stated there was no evidence the NFL or Ravens saw the full video before it was posted by TMZ, the celebrity gossip website.
Sanders, Newsome and other team officials are expected to be called to testify at the hearing, as well as Rice.
Despite their apparent knowledge of what happened prior to the release of the full video, the Ravens stuck by Rice for several months. He was expected to be their starting running back until the video was leaked.
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The video made Rice "radioactive," to employ, according to David Cornwell, a former NFL counsel who doesn't represent Rice, but has represented Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and former Ravens wide receiver Donte' Stallworth in NFL disciplinary maters.
"They stood by Ray, which makes it more difficult to say there was a reason for cutting him other than the video," Corry said. "At the same, it's hard to see an arbitrator taking away teams' great discretion to cut players. Why would an arbitrator want to set a precedent on teams' ability to release players?
"Teams really can cut people for practically anything. Depending on where you are in the food chain, you could get cut for looking at a coach the wrong way. The Mueller report is something I would expect Ray Rice's lawyers to bring up and try to use along with Judge Jones' ruling. The Ravens could say they were already contemplating cutting Ray internally. They can acknowledge that the video was a contributing factor, but they can't say it was a catalyst."
Following Jones' ruling, Rice is eligible to sign with any team. However, sources said he hasn't been invited to visit or work out for teams. A ruling is expected well before the start of free agency and the start of the new league year on March 10.
Das is a former Major League Baseball arbitrator from Philadelphia. He has been an NFL arbitrator for the NFL since 2004. In November, he ruled in favor of the NFL and allowed the league to keep Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on the commissioner's exempt list in his child abuse case.
Das ruled in favor of the NFL in a grievance involving the Bountygate case in 2012, upholding player suspensions that were later overturned.
"If I'm Ray Rice, I wouldn't be all that thrilled about having Das as the arbitrator," Corry said. "There has to be cause for concern because the exempt list situation for Peterson seemed like one with a better chance of a favorable result for the player. It's not an open-and-shut case. You never know how an arbitrator is going to rule and what they may find persuasive."