5 teams that could sign Ray Rice to make a playoff push
Ray Rice is eligible to play in the NFL once again after winning an appeal Friday of his indefinite suspension by commissioner Roger Goodell.
However, that ruling doesn't mean Rice will be wearing the pads again during the 2014 season.
Any interested suitor must be prepared for the off-field impact that signing Rice would make and whether doing so is worth all the chaos that will come with it. Rice's arrival will bring a media circus into the locker room and assuredly draw outside criticism from those who don't believe he should be given a second chance following last February's domestic violence incident with his now-wife, Janay. Even some of Rice's would-be new teammates might be squeamish to welcome him, let alone tolerate the hassle that comes with having to answer countless questions from family, friends and reporters about the situation.
It's one thing to bring in a controversial figure like Rice during the offseason when games aren't being played. It's quite another when Rice's arrival would happen during the most important four-game stretch of the season.
On the positive side, Rice plays a position where it wouldn't take him long getting up to speed with the offensive system. Rice also reported to Baltimore Ravens training camp in much better condition than last season, which was his least productive since his 2008 rookie campaign.
That's another concern. Rice averaged career-lows in average yards per rush (3.1) and reception (5.5) in 2013. Combined with the heavy workload he carried from 2009 to 2012, there's a chance that the 27-year-old may be so worn down that he isn't markedly better than the baggage-free running backs remaining in the free-agent market.
It would be surprising should news of a Rice free-agent visit leaked before Week 13 was completed. If and when such an event should take place, here are five teams whose look into Rice would make sense in light of their running back situations and standing in the playoff race.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts are still trying to salvage the mistake they made last season when they traded a first-round pick to Cleveland for Trent Richardson. Ahmad Bradshaw did an outstanding job splitting snaps with Richardson, but he was lost for the season two weeks ago after he broke his leg against New England. New backup Dan "Boom" Herron has a great nickname, but there's nothing booming about his production. Indianapolis ranks 17th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (110.7) and average per carry (4.0). Another factor that could work in Rice's favor: He is well known to those who also were formerly in the Ravens organization, like head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive linemen Arthur Jones and Cory Redding.
Denver Broncos: Hosting guard Richie Incognito on a free-agent visit earlier this month showed Denver would at least consider signing a notorious player if it bettered the team. The Broncos are in Super Bowl-or-bust mode after last year's runner-up finish and quarterback Peyton Manning at age 38. The running game has sorely missed free-agent departure Knowshon Moreno, as Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman have both battled injuries. C.J. Anderson did rush for 167 yards last Sunday against Miami, but whether he can continue to enjoy such success over the long haul remains a question.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers left themselves without a safety net behind Le'Veon Bell when they decided to cut backup LeGarrette Blount following his unprofessional behavior during a Week 11 win over Tennessee. The other two running backs on Pittsburgh's roster are both rookies: Speedy but diminutive third-round pick Dri Archer, who is a spot player, and undrafted college free agent Josh Harris. Two more pluses for Rice: He has enjoyed and played well against Pittsburgh, and the Steelers haven't shied away from supporting star players who experienced off-field trouble like Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals must place more emphasis on their 31st-ranked running game now that backup quarterback Drew Stanton is replacing the injured Carson Palmer (knee) for the rest of the season. The Cardinals and Colts reportedly both put in a waiver claim for Ben Tate last week following his release by Cleveland, but the running back landed in Minnesota, which had a higher spot in the pecking order. Arizona did sign seven-year NFL veteran Michael Bush earlier this week for what head coach Bruce Arians told me was to fill the "big back" role the Cardinals were missing following the departure of Jonathan Dwyer. At 5-foot-8 and 206 pounds, Rice isn't a plodder like Bush or Dwyer. The Cardinals also had no tolerance for off-field domestic violence charges when it came to Dwyer, who was placed on the team's reserve/non-football injury list with an "illness" in September once he was formally charged with felony assault and eight misdemeanors against his wife. Would the franchise see Rice in a different light if he helped the Cardinals win games?
Buffalo Bills: Failing to make the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons could entice a franchise to take chances if it meant avoiding a 15th year of such an ignominious fate. The Bills haven't surpassed 120 rushing yards in a game since the season-opener and their ground attack lost its home-run threat when C.J. Spiller suffered a broken collarbone in Week 7 against Minnesota. Spiller is eligible to return from the injured reserve list starting in Week 16, but the Bills (6-5) may still not be in postseason contention by then. Adding Rice to the mix could help Buffalo stay in the running.