“This is not a farewell or goodbye.”
These were the words of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, written in an open letter to The Baltimore Sun this past Friday. In said message, Rice expressed remorse for the notorious domestic violence incident which eventually got him suspended for the entire 2014 NFL season, and apologized to the fans in Baltimore who supported him during his time with the team. He has since been reinstated in the league, and is currently looking for an opportunity to get back on the field as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for Rice, this is where the “not a farewell or goodbye” aspect of his letter becomes a bit difficult to buy. According to numerous reports, since being reinstated this past November, Rice hasn’t received one single phone call from an interested team. No one has reached out to discuss contract talks, much less to even offer an opportunity to work out for anyone. He’s been officially available to rejoin the league for almost three months, but nobody appears too interested.
I have no doubt Rice felt this written apology was a necessary step when it comes to cleaning up his image. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was advised to make such a move, perhaps told it could help clear up a bit of the negative PR surrounding him and maybe generate at least one call from a potential suitor.
The problem, though, is despite the fact this apology was needed, it’s not going to have the impact he was hoping for. Rice’s domestic abuse controversy is no longer the primary reason teams are keeping their distance from him, it’s merely the icing on the cake. The unsurprising lack of interest in Rice is brought on by the fact that, simply put, he’s just not worth the trouble.
Rice could pen hundreds of apology notes, none of them will hide the fact he’s clearly on the back end of his career. Sure, kudos to him for trying to find himself an opportunity to prove he’s worth signing and is past his days of scandal. Be that as it may, his last full season in the league doesn’t exactly promise incredible returns to anyone who decides to take a flyer on him.
In some ways, Rice’s highlight reel from his last full season is actually doing a little more damage to his current chances than the infamous video taken from his domestic assault incident. Front offices around the NFL take a look at Rice’s 2013 campaign and see a running back who tallied 483 less yards than the season before, and whose yards-per-carry average dropped to a career low 3.1. Try as he may, there’s no way Rice can remove these stats from the minds of anyone looking to sign a running back this offseason.
The bottom line is, along with the fact Rice’s apology doesn’t erase the controversial incident itself, it also doesn’t erase the signs of decline he was already showing before his suspension.
It all combines to form the biggest hurdle in Rice’s comeback attempts. He’s a perfect definition of a high-risk, low-reward signing. A team is going to deal with public backlash just for showing remote interest in him, and things will get even more chaotic if someone eventually does sign him. However, not only would a team deal with PR issues if they were to acquire him, there’s plenty of evidence to show they’d get nothing in return for all their trouble.
Why risk the media backlash which would come from bringing in someone like Rice if the odds favor such a signing not being worth it? What happens if a team were to acquire Rice, go to bat for him in attempts to defend such a move, only to watch his already low stats decline even further? Any interested GM would be bringing in guaranteed headaches and not improving his team all in one signing.
Some are taking a slightly more optimistic route with Rice, bringing up the fact running back Adrian Peterson would garner interest if he were to be reinstated. The Minnesota Vikings star sat out this season as well, thanks to equally heinous child abuse incidents. If Peterson would be welcomed back, why wouldn’t Rice? Heck, Peterson’s actually one year older than Rice. If he’s not past his prime, why would Rice be?
Again, though, the level of interest is not as much about the respective reasons these two backs were suspended this past season, but about the last on-field memory of each player. Where Rice saw a severe decline in performance during his most recent season, Peterson rushed for over 1,200 yards in his. Both players are surrounded by controversy, and signing either would involve dealing with a PR nightmare. At the end of the day, one of these players looks to promise a lot more of a reward on the field than the other.
Do I think Rice deserves a second chance? Sure, why not? We’ve seen such a thing occur before in the NFL, and who am I to judge whether or not he’s a changed man. If dealing with the controversy of his domestic assault was his only problem, he likely would’ve at least received a handful of phone calls from interested teams by now.
The issue, though, is his legal troubles are only a piece in the puzzle. He’s at an age which is recognized league-wide as a drop-off point for anyone playing at his position. His most recent season on the field was easily the worst in his career. And, despite his most recent public apology, he really hasn’t done too much else to try and repair his image.
It all makes for one messy combination for Rice to overcome. He may end up getting the second chance he so desires, but the odds are very much stacked against him. Not only does he have to convince front offices around the league he can steer clear of disgrace and outrage, he has to somehow prove his last season was merely a setback and not a preview of what would come this year.
Accomplishing this will be no easy feat for Rice, and there’s neither an apology he could write, nor any PR campaign he could run to change this fact.