Baltimore Ravens Should Restructure Ray Rice's Contract Before Free Agency

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIFebruary 17, 2014

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 29:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens scores on a two point conversion during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens were sitting on top of the NFL mountain just one year ago after winning the Super Bowl, but this year saw them miss the postseason completely and finish with an 8-8 record. 

It isn't helping matters that running back Ray Rice was arrested Friday for allegedly hitting his fiancee at a casino, according to Justin Fenton of The Baltimore Sun

This after a 2013 season that saw him rush for just 660 yards and four touchdownshis worst year as a pro since being drafted from Rutgers in 2008. 

Baltimore needs to make significant changes this offseason if it wants to get back into the playoffs and challenge for another championship, but it will have to make some tough decisions this offseason in order to do so.

Sitting at just about $11.5 million under the salary cap, according to Spotrac, the Ravens may have to part ways with a key veteran whose contract is preventing the team from being active in free agency. 

Linebacker Terrell Suggs is set to make a significant amount of money$12.4 millionin 2014. But The Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson reports that Suggs and the Ravens have agreed to a new deal that will lower his 2014 cap hit. 

Now that Suggs has been taken care of, the next best way to get more cap space would be to trade Rice, who signed a five-year, $35 million contract before the 2012 NFL season. He's set to have a cap hit of $8.75 million in 2014, according to Spotrac

At age 27, he doesn't need to be getting that kind of money, as his play could deteriorate further this coming season. With Bernard Pierce also having shown promise in his first two years in the NFL, the team will likely go with a running back by committee approach moving forward, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.

It doesn't help that Rice now has this domestic dispute hanging over him, and one has to wonder if the Ravens will look to trade Rice this offseason. If another team is willing to absorb his contract with the hope that he'll rekindle his Pro Bowl form in 2014, the Ravens would be smart to shed his salary while he still has value.

Regardless, the Ravens don't need to be paying Rice the salary he's set to make, and they'll need to work hard this offseason to lower that number so they can be more active in free agency and re-sign their own free agents.

Linebacker Daryl Smith, tight end Dennis Pitta, defensive lineman Arthur Jones and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe are all key starters set to become free agents, and if the Ravens can get Rice to lower his 2014 salary or shed it completely, the chance of getting those guys back increases.

In turn, that should help speed up the process of the Ravens becoming championship contenders again instead of regressing further in 2014.