Ravens running back Ray Rice is set to become an unrestricted free agent next month, and given that there’s been no progress on talks for a long-term deal, Baltimore will surely use the franchise tag to keep Rice in place.
That may lead to months of negotiations between Rice and the Ravens, and Peter King writes at SI.com this morning that Rice wants an Adrian Peterson-like contract. Peterson signed a seven-year, $100 million contract in September, with $36 million guaranteed and $40 million in the first three years.
Is Rice worth that much? It’s easy to see why he and his agent think he is. Rice is one of the best running backs in the NFL and probably has a better chance than Peterson of staying near the top of the league for several years to come, given that Rice is almost two years younger than Peterson and has probably taken less wear and tear on his body than Peterson had when he signed his deal. (It goes without saying that Rice has taken less wear and tear on his body now, after Peterson suffered a torn ACL.)
However, it’s also easy to see why the Ravens would be extremely reluctant to give Rice that kind of money. Running backs have proven to be fungible, prone to injury and susceptible to sudden declines in the quality of their play, and NFL teams that give lucrative long-term deals to running backs often live to regret it. Would the Titans still give Chris Johnson a huge contract knowing that he would have career lows in yards, yards per carry and touchdowns last year? Would the Panthers still give DeAngelo Williams a huge contract knowing that he would average 52 yards a game last year? Would the Vikings still give Peterson that contract knowing he was going to tear his ACL less than four months later?
So while the Ravens are reportedly ready to start talking to Rice’s agent at the Scouting Combine, starting to talk and working out a deal are very different things. What the Ravens would rather do is have Rice play for the one-year franchise tender of $7.7 million.
The wild card in all this is that there might be a team out there willing to sign Rice to a long-term deal and give up the two first-round draft picks they would have to surrender to the Ravens if Baltimore doesn’t match the offer. Rice just turned 25 and hasn’t had any significant injuries, and if some team out there is in awe of the idea of getting five seasons of Rice’s services before his 30th birthday, maybe someone other than the Ravens will offer him Adrian Peterson money.