Given the ham-handed, block-headed way NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handled the investigation into the Ray Rice domestic abuse affair, and the mind-bogglingly even more ham-handed, block-headed way he meted out punishment – twice – to the embattled running back, it didn't come as much of a surprise when former US District Court Judge, and independent arbitrator, Barbara S. Jones overturned the indefinite suspension handed down by the league.
So now Rice is a free agent and open to sign with any team in the league. The question now becomes, will any team be willing to give Rice a second chance? Rice comes with a lot of baggage (you tend to have that after having the world see a video of you knocking out your fiancee), so any team willing to sign him will have to be willing to sign on for the circus that will accompany him to town. Not to mention the stigma that comes from signing a very well known domestic abuser. And given the heightened tension and conversation surrounding the issue today – a conversation that is long overdue – teams must expect protests, boycotts, and a slew of bad press if they sign Rice.
To put it bluntly, Ray Rice is radioactive right now. He's free to sign anywhere, but the conventional wisdom says that if – and it's a big if – a team opts to sign the running back, it likely won't be this season. Most teams will likely – not definitely, but likely – give the situation a chance to cool off and quietly sign him sometime next summer, when the name Ray Rice is out of the headlines and doesn't necessarily invoke an automatic avalanche of anger and outrage.
But football is a funny business and if there is one thing we've learned, it's that if you've got the talent, no matter what you do, you will get a second chance. Probably a third, fourth, and fifth chance even. Many thought Mike Vick wouldn't get another chance to play, but he's currently starting in the NFL. Josh Brent accidentally killed his teammate but he's still playing. Adrian Peterson will be playing next season, more than likely.
The list goes on, but you get the point. Ray Rice may be a sensational case right now. And though what he did is repugnant beyond all belief, whether you agree with it or not, Rice will very likely get another shot in the NFL. Probably next season at the earliest. But with teams fighting for playoff spots, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see him on the field again this season. Especially since he looked slimmer and quicker in pre-season then he had in seasons past. With a year off to rest his aging body, Rice could probably contribute a couple of solid seasons for his new team.
Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on the situation, with your belief about where he will wind up, or whether you think he should be granted another chance.
In the meantime, here are 10 possible spots Ray Rice may land...
10 Baltimore Ravens
It's a bit of a longshot, but there is a path back to Baltimore for Rice. He's been with the organization since they drafted him out of Rutgers in the second round of the 2008 draft. The Ravens are the only team Rice has known, and he still has some very strong allies within the organization that included head coach John Harbaugh and GM Ozzie Newsome. With the backing of those two power players in the organization, it's not outside the realm of possibility that we'll see Rice donning the familiar purple and black.
9 Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have a real problem at the running back position. Namely, the fact that none of their backs can ever seem to stay healthy. Which leads to problems for QB Cam Newton and the offense as a whole. Without a potent running game, Newton is expected to shoulder more of the responsibility for making the offense go. And to this point, he's not proven capable of doing that, though not having much in the way of a reliable receiving squad has no doubt helped with that. With the Panthers sitting at a dismal 3-8-1 this season, and their playoff hopes all but evaporated, they are undoubtedly looking at what they can do next season. That might include giving Newton some help by beefing up their running game with a back who has proven durable and productive over his career like Rice.
8 New York Jets
The Jets are always looking to make a splash and have never shied away from controversy. They seem to make a point of pursuing players who have a history of trouble or attitude issues – Mike Vick, Chris Johnson, and Percy Harvin are but a few. With a 2-9 record, no shot at the playoffs, HC Rex Ryan, and possibly GM John Idzik, likely to be fired at the end of the season, the Jets will be in full rebuilding mode. With running backs Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory not performing very well this season, it's very likely that they will be looking to add some punch to their backfield. It doesn't stretch the imagination too much to see the Jets pursuing Rice to give them that punch they're looking for.
7 Tennessee Titans
It's not incredibly likely that Rice will end up in the Music City, but it's not completely outside the realm of possibility either. Though second round pick Bishop Sankey has lived up to their expectations for him, he hasn't exactly exceeded them. He's been adequate for a team that is 2-10 on the year and in rebuilding mode. They have some good, young pieces on offense, but they don't have a quality back that opposing teams really have to account for. Adding Rice to the roster – and they could likely get him on the cheap – would not only add a mentor for Sankey, but would give the Titans some much needed punch in the backfield.
6 Minnesota Vikings
While it's not definite, the belief that seems to be gaining more steam is that RB Adrian Peterson has played his last game for the Vikings in the wake of his child abuse scandal. Though he negotiated a plea deal that allowed him to avoid jail time, his support inside the organization has eroded according to some reports. Though Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata have filled in admirably during Peterson's absence, neither seem to have that home run capability that Peterson brought to the table – the same sort of ability that Rice could potentially bring. Minnesota probably isn't the most likely landing spot for Rice given that owner Zygi Wilf seems so sensitive to public sentiment, but it's still entirely possible.
5 Cleveland Browns
The Browns lured Arian Foster's former backup with the Houston Texans, Ben Tate, to Cleveland to be their workhorse back. It was a move that didn't exactly pan out well for the Browns as they released Tate in mid-November. The fact that he was being platooned with fellow backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West wasn't sitting well with him and led to some distractions for the team. Though Crowell and West have been doing well in splitting the carries, it leaves the Browns without a featured back to carry the load and take some of the pressure of their quarterback – be it Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel. The Browns have proven that they are not adverse to taking on and/or retaining talented but troubled players – just see Josh Gordon, if you doubt that. Rice could give them a true veteran back to guide these two rookie running backs. Also, he'd get to play the Ravens twice a year.
4 Buffalo Bills
With RB Fred Jackson getting older and seemingly in decline, the Bills will be in the market for a running back this offseason. They could address it through the draft, but they could also roll the dice and pursue a proven playmaker like Rice. And given that Buffalo is one of the smallest media markets in the league, they could sign Rice very quietly, and it might take a while before anybody figures out that they did it. The media circus, by virtue of it being Buffalo might be relatively minimized, and the Bills might get a still productive back to punch up their run game – which has been lacking this season – as well as a mentor for their younger backs.
3 New Orleans Saints
On the surface, the idea that the Saints would be interested in picking up Ray Rice doesn't seem to make much sense. Especially not when they have solid, productive backs like Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson, and Travaris Cadet on the roster. Unless they're planning on jettisoning one – or more – of them. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but according to recent reports, the Saints are one of the clubs interested in pursuing Rice – though those reports are careful to say it's not am imminent signing. Sean Payton has a knack for helping players revive their careers, so perhaps it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Saints have surfaced as a possible landing spot for Rice.
2 Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are another team reported to be interested in acquiring Rice's services. And it doesn't come as much of a surprise given their trouble in the backfield. Having lost RB's Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw to season ending injuries, the Colts are left with perpetual disappointment Trent Richardson – a trade the organization probably wishes they'd never made – and second-year man Daniel Herron. Which is to say the Colts aren't left with much. It's a good thing that the Indianapolis offense isn't built around the run, and that they have a QB like Andrew Luck slinging the ball, but eventually, they will need to establish a running game to keep defenses honest. Solid ground games win playoff games and right now, the Colts don't have that. The team says they're not planning on pursuing Rice for the 2014 campaign, but as the playoffs creep ever closer, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see him running around the House that Manning Built.
1 New England Patriots
Bill Belichick fancies himself to be the Great Rehabilitator. He's taken in known problem children and malcontents like Randy Moss, Darrelle Revis, Corey Dillon, and Aaron Hernandez. Okay, so the Aaron Hernandez deal blew up in his face – spectacularly – but Belichick has a track record of helping players turn their careers around. Sort of. In New England, Rice would exist under the iron fist, as well as the protection and media shield, Belichick provides all of his players. If he played by Mad Bill's rules, Rice could work his way back into the NFL's good graces by working hard, and most importantly, keeping quiet – or at least, work his way back into not being the most despised person in football. Despite the fact that Belichick currently has a thousand running backs on his roster, they're all getting touches and contributing to one of the hottest teams in football. It wouldn't be too difficult for him to work Rice into the rotation. Of all the possible landing spots, New England seems to be the best – and most likely – fit.