Friday, February 24, 2012

Tag, you're it Ray Rice!

This idea will not be wildly popular. In fact, most of you are likely to consider this to be blasphemy for a Ravens fan.

Do not sign Ray Rice to a long-term contract!

There, I said it.

Now let me explain it.

It’s rather common knowledge that the average career life expectancy of a running back in the NFL is the shortest of all positions. Research suggests that average is 2.57 years. Now I do believe this average is artificially low because running backs that occupy a spot on a 53 man roster even for a season or less bring that average down.

League studies support such a notion.

The NFLPA is quick to tell everyone that the overall average career life expectancy of an NFL player is 3.5 seasons. That may be true but did you know that the average career length for a player who makes a club’s opening-day roster (active/inactive roster or injured reserve) in his rookie season is 6 seasons?

That certainly swings the pendulum a bit.

Those numbers climb even more if the player was a first round pick (9.3 seasons) and still greater if he’s a Pro Bowl player (11.7 seasons).

And as we know Ray Rice is a Pro Bowl player.

So if the average career length of a running back is 2.57 years and that of the average player is 3.5 (22.86% less) it goes to reason that the average Pro Bowl running back has a 9 year career. To date Ray Rice has 4 accrued seasons in the NFL.

The question then becomes one of how much longer will Ray Rice be among the NFL’s best running backs in order to determine his value going forward in dollars and cents.

Rice and his agent have decided to set the bar at Adrian Peterson’s 7 years, $100 million deal that included guaranteed money of $36 million. Hopefully the Rice camp is simply throwing numbers against the wall to see what sticks. Somewhere in Owings Mills Ozzie Newsome is still doubled over in laughter.

And when he rubs those laughing tears from his eyes and compares Rice to Peterson these are the career stats he’ll be looking at:

A. Peterson: Att. – 1406; Yds. – 6752; Avg. - 4.8; TD – 64; Rec. – 137; Yds. – 1309; Avg. - 9.6; TD - 3

R. Rice: Att. – 959; Yds. – 4377; Avg. - 4.6; TD – 24; Rec. – 250; Yds. – 2235; Avg. - 8.9; TD - 5

Even if the two players were equals (they’re not) why should the Ravens use a ridiculously one-sided Peterson contract as the bench mark?

The answer is, “They won’t!”

The mounting evidence just screams at organizations not to pay running backs big long-term dollars. The productivity that inspired the big contract like Peterson’s is just not sustainable. We’ve seen this Groundhog Day movie time and time with running backs. Even Pro Bowlers who remain in the league (albeit with reduced workloads), at some point will fail to produce the numbers they once did given the typical wear and tear of a backfield workhorse. It is so much more economical and more importantly – cap friendly, to find young running backs with more tread on the tires to carry the load.

And the interesting thing is that you don’t even have to invest a top pick in many cases to find that economical guy!

Consider these telling facts regarding NFL running backs:

* Not one of the league’s Top 6 backs from 2011 is a first round pick.

* Three of the 6 are second round picks (Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew), one is a third round pick (Frank Gore), one a fifth (Michael Turner) and the last an undrafted free agent (Arian Foster).

* Of the 30 top 10 finishes over the past 3 seasons for running backs, the average position in the draft was the 70th pick, i.e. an early third rounder.

* The average age of a Top 5 performer over the last three seasons is 25.7. Ray Rice is now 25.

* Four of 2011’s top 5 performers made $900,000 or less.

* Over the last 3 seasons the top 5 performers have averaged $2.056M per season and nine of those top 5 finishes were $900,000 or less.

* Only 4 of the 10 highest paid running backs in 2011 finished in the top 10. The 6 not finishing in the top 10 averaged $8.93M in salary.

The facts overwhelmingly support NOT giving Ray Rice a long-term deal – particularly one in the Adrian Peterson or even Chris Johnson range. The Vikings and the Titans probably won’t admit it but inside their respective team headquarters you just know they’d like to have a redo on those gaudy contracts.

You see contracts like that make it difficult for teams to effectively manage their cap, particularly when players don’t perform to the level of their pay. In the case of a running back that likelihood is greater than all other positions. And when you mix in the relative bargains that can be found, whether those bargains are in dollars, a modest draft pick or some combination thereof, bank breaking deals for backs end up being organizational back breakers instead.

Yes Ray Rice is arguably the Ravens’ best player (for now). Yes he’s an exemplary teammate, leader, role model and he engages the community and of course we’d like to see him in purple and black for the remainder of his career.

That said, the Ravens should use the franchise tag on Ray Rice this season ($7.7M) and the next (estimated $9.24M).

Afterwards, who knows? That’s just the way it is for running backs in the NFL.
Push emotion to the sidelines. This isn’t personal.

It’s just business.

Resources used:, and


Jerry B said...

Couldn't agree more, TL! And, while they're at it, hopefully they find a way to sign Grubbs, whose absence last year created noticeable OL problems! I always revert to my "fall back" position when it comes to evaluating talent and managing the cap......IN OZZIE, WE TRUST!

Anonymous said...

The man deserves to get paid. Maybe not AP money, but something more than a one year deal. Start treating people like commodities and they will show no loyalty. After one year of franchising, pay him or cut him loose so somebody else can.