Ray Rice is one of the most beloved players in Baltimore.
He is often the catalyst for any offensive production that the Ravens can muster, and he has grown into a leader in his few short years on the team.
Rice is everything a team could ask for from an NFL player. He is both immensely productive, with over 2,000 combined rushing and receiving yards in two of the last three seasons, and a truly good person, regularly giving back to the community and the team.
That's why it pains me to realize that the Ravens would be better off not re-signing him to a long term deal.
When Arian Foster signed his five year, $43.5 million deal, signing Rice to a similar deal seemed likely and desirable.
Both McCoy and Foster signed fair deals that pay them well, but essentially guarantee that their teams will be getting their money's worth. Arian Foster will, at best, average around $8 million a year, a more than fair price for an elite running back.
So why are the McCoy and Foster deals so wonderful, while the Ravens shouldn't resign Ray Rice? The answer is two-fold.
First, Rice wants more money than McCoy and Foster. ESPN's Jamison Hensley writes that Rice will expect money somewhere in the neighborhood of the megadeals that Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson signed, with the final number likely falling between these megadeals and the more affordable deals that McCoy and Foster signed.
Who should be the Ravens' first priority to resign?
That could mean guaranteed money around $25 million in a contract of roughly five years, $50 million. No running back is ever worth that much.
The positional value of the running back has eroded. No ground game is unstoppable anymore, and the league has shifted to passing as its main method of offense. Teams that continue to focus on pounding the rock are getting left in the dust.
Second, Rice simply isn't worth that much more money than McCoy and Foster.
While Rice was more productive last year, McCoy is still just 23 years old. He will likely continue to improve, and when his contract expires, he will just be exiting his prime.
Foster, on the other hand, has comparable production to Rice, but he also has proven he can do it against a top run defense.
Foster absolutely gashed the Ravens' defense in the playoffs, while Rice continues to struggle in games against the Steelers and other stout run defenses.
Rice certainly deserves a deal on par with Foster's and McCoy's, but an extra $5 million guaranteed should be enough to end the negotiations for the Ravens.
Baltimore already has several massive contracts to deal with, including Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and the newly re-signed Lardarius Webb.
Joe Flacco and Ed Reed are both looking for new deals too. Flacco is more important to deal with than Rice, while Reed has earned the right to go out however he chooses.
That leaves Rice as the odd man out, and the Ravens seem to know it, drafting potential replacement Bernard Pierce in the third round of April's NFL draft.
Pierce profiles as a future starter in the NFL. He has the durability and power to be a bellcow back, with the speed and explosion to be a top-tier starter. Pierce is also locked up for four years, which makes him a much more affordable option.
Ultimately, the Ravens want to re-sign Ray Rice, and if they can talk his price down, they should do so. He is among the best running backs in the NFL, and he has earned a hefty contract. He is also one of the most popular Ravens, and to see him leave would be painful for the entire city of Baltimore.
The demand for running backs is at an all-time low, however, and the Ravens might want to save their money to bolster their passing game.
Rice is simply asking for more money than he's worth. Signing him to a massive deal, one larger than McCoy's and Foster's, would set the Ravens back for years. They can't afford to do that, especially with a potential replacement on the roster.