The Ravens and Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice have until July 16 (next Monday) at 4 p.m. to agree on a new contract. If they cant find common ground, Rice will play under the franchise-tag designation in 2012, earning 7.7 million, then take another swing at landing a big deal in 2013.
His contract situation has kept him in the headlines throughout the offseason and stirred plenty of conversation; he skipped the teams entire offseason program, including all OTAs and minicamps, and might also skip part of training camp, which begins later this month. Such moves are within his rights as part of the mechanics of the franchise tag.
But there is little doubt Rice will eventually sign his one-year tender, rejoin his teammates and play for the Ravens in 2012. As he said last December, even his one-year salary is lot more than I ever had, and he isnt about to give that up, no matter how frosty the negotiations turn.
When he does finally hit the field, the Ravens would gladly take a reprise of his 2011 season, in which he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and scored a career-high 14 touchdowns, showing a knack for delivering big plays when they were most needed. Rice was the centerpiece of the offense, carrying the team on many Sundays, his contributions especially vital given the up-and-down nature of the teams passing game.
Rice would obviously also take a reprise of his 2011 performance, which earned him a second trip to the Pro Bowl. If one season of performing at that level doesnt land him the big deal he wants, maybe two seasons will.
But of course, in the wake of his unusual offseason, there are questions.
Even though he has worked out madly on his own, will his conditioning suffer because he sat out the teams offseason program?
Will he be rusty when he returns, having not taken a handoff from Joe Flacco since January?
Even if the answer to both of those questions is no, will he be able to replicate his 2011 season with teams keying on him more than ever?
From the outset of this offseason, the Ravens have expressed little concern about Rice, believing he is a pros pro who will be ready no matter what happens off the field. A recent video of him carrying beer kegs up some high school stadium steps certainly seemed to indicate that he was focused and would be ready to go.
The Ravens have plenty of questions about plenty of players heading into 2012, and Rice is not excused from that exercise. But in his case, even after this strangest of offseasons, the team feels it has a pretty good handle on the answers to those questions.