Feb 26, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Temple Owls running back Bernard Pierce does running drills during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
Many, if not most fans of the Baltimore Ravens were surprised to hear the name of Temple running back Bernard Pierce called out when the Ravens made their pick in the 3rd round of last month's NFL Draft. Didn't the team have so many more pressing needs than a running back to join Anthony Allen and Damien Berry in the competition to back up RayRice?
That might have been true, if the team selected Pierce to ONLY back up Rice. However,when you look at this rookie's skill set and what he could offer the Ravens, you might wonder if the team might be looking a couple of year's into the future and perhaps thinking about him becoming the Ravens' next great running back.
The Ravens are up against the ceiling of the league's salary cap. They still need to work out what wil be a mega-deal for QB Joe Flacco. Rice wants a big payday as well but his contract status will have to take a back seat to Flacco's, at least for now. In the meantime, they have placed the Franchise Tag on him, forcing Ray to have to settle for the measly salary of around $7.7 million in 2012.
2012 will be Ray Rice's 5th year in the league. The Ravens can utilize the Franchise Tag again on Rice in 2013, but would have to raise his salary to over $9.2 million, as the rules say he must be paid the average of the top five players at his position or at least a 20% increase over his previous year's salary.
By the end of the 2013 season, Rice will have six seasons, a ton of carries and have absorbed a lot of punishment on his below-average size body. To reward him for his efforts might seem reasonable but at what price? The better move at that point could very well be to let him walk and by then, Bernard Pierce would have two years under his belt in this system and be poised to take over as the team's feature back.
Looking at the success the Ravens have had the past couple of seasons with Rice in the backfield, this theory may seem a bit out of whack right now. However, the key to that last sentence are the words, "right now."