Just a few days ago, the news broke that the Baltimore Ravens had placed the franchise tag on Ray Rice. It was a move that many considered inevitable as a necessary measure for the team to buy extra time to work out a long-term deal with the star running back.
Under the tag, Rice will earn a base salary of $7.7 million for the upcoming season, a hefty pay raise over his last year’s earnings of around $600,000. Though Rice is surely grateful for the enormous pay raise, it’s likely that he’s still frustrated with the lack of progress on a new contract between the team and his agent. Without a doubt, Rice’s frustrations will be elevated even further after recent news broke that other NFL running backs are getting their big-time contracts, such as: the Houston Texans’ Arian Foster and the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch.
While holding out may not be the best negotiation tactic on Rice’s part and perhaps not the best way to get the contract he wants, Rice has a right to protect his future from a financial and health perspective. In today’s NFL, running backs are used up, worn down, and tossed aside as soon as the team they’re signed with decides they’ve got nothing more to give. It’s not a secret either, and surely Rice is well aware of the trend that has befallen the NFL. The best way I can describe it is: let’s say you’ve owned a car for a number of years. It’s getting worn down and beat up. Then, all of a sudden the transmission goes out. Do you spend $3,000 to get it rebuilt or part ways and get yourself a new set of wheels with less fuss and wear that can last another 4-5 years? Just like Rice is wary of his future, the Ravens too understand the way the running back position has become under-valued and haven’t rushed to commit to a multi-year contract. It seems as though the Ravens and Rice will be playing "contract chicken" straight up until the July 15th deadline, where after said date, Rice will have to play under the franchise tag.
(See what Terrell Suggs surprisingly says about whether or not Rice should holdout after the "Jump")
Rice has proven to be extremely durable over his 4-year career, starting in 49 out of 64 games. It should be noted however that Rice was also buried on the depth chart during his rookie season in 2008 which is why his game-start totals seem low. Nevertheless, Rice has so far avoided any major injuries, only collecting the usually bumps and scrapes along the way.
Although Rice has proven very reliable, one needs to look no further than the situation with the Minnesota Vikings and their franchise running back, Adrian Peterson. The Vikings signed Peterson to a record setting $100 million contract in September last year, and just a few months later in December, Peterson suffered a torn ACL and MCL in a contest against the Washington Redskins. All it takes is one play, one snap, and the career of a running back can be altered such that they will not see the field for months, years, or maybe even never again. Situations such as these are why franchises are wary of giving large, long-term deals to running backs.
As a teammate of Rice, Terrell Suggs is a player who is very familiar with the franchise tag. Suggs was tagged twice during his career as a Raven in both 2008 and 2009, but eventually acquired his long-term deal in the summer of 2009 which made him the highest paid linebacker in NFL history at the time. Though Suggs never held out, here’s what he says about the situation surrounding Rice:
"There are only a certain amount of years you can play this game, and it's even a lower amount for a running back. God forbid that he gets hurt while at one of these camps. Running backs already take extra pounding, and there is no way he can participate in training camp without getting hit."
Suggs on how Rice should approach a potential holdout:
"Don't surprise them (the Ravens). I think he should sit down with them and suggest, 'I'll be here to work out and study, but I'm not going to participate in the camps without a new contract.’"
"Ray is phenomenal, strong and dedicated to the game. All you have to do is look back on last season and we didn't have one OTA, no mini-camps and training camp was cut back, and we came out strong and played in the AFC championship game. They know Ray will be ready for the season."
If I’m honest, it’s hard to argue with Suggs’ logic. Rice could very well enter full-contact drills during training camps and be injured and perhaps never fully recover, and while that isn’t a guarantee to happen, it is certainly a possibility that Rice must weigh against his long-term financial security. A perfect example of the situation that the Ravens are in with Rice’s contract status is one that hits right at home. During training camps in 2010, only a year after he signed a lucrative 4-year $27 million contract, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth suffered an ACL injury and never fully recovered which eventually led to his release this week.
The cruel truth of the matter is that the NFL is a business first. While I prefer to believe that the Ravens remain more loyal to their stars than other organizations around the league, there is no denying that the NFL of now does not place a high value on running backs. Seemingly, more and more teams are starting to believe that quality running backs are a dime-a-dozen and can be had at a lesser cost. In an increasingly pass-happy league, the era of the franchise running back is diminishing faster and faster each season.