Who would consider signing Ray Rice?
By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network
Having won the appeal on his season-long suspension and his reinstatement into the NFL, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is eligible to sign with any team who desires his services. The important question is: who would even consider signing Rice?
While Rice could provide a lift to a team barren of a strong running game, the public relations hit a team would take for signing him would be ferocious. Nevertheless, let's take a close look at a few playoff-contending teams who could benefit from signing Ray Rice.
Despite being tied for the best record in the NFL at 9-3 and the top team right now in the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals lack a strong running game. The lack of a dependable running game will only become more magnified as the playoffs draw closer due to the absence of veteran quarterback Carson Palmer for the rest of the season.
While tailback Andre Ellington can be a fun player to watch, the Cardinals' rushing attack ranks second-to-last overall in the league. Bringing in a veteran like Rice to a team with little-to-no playoff experience could be very beneficial, especially as the pressure starts to mount on young quarterback Drew Stanton to make big plays down the stretch. Establishing a strong run game with Rice could be very beneficial to the growth of both the Cardinals and Stanton himself.
While the Detroit Lions have one of the best passing combos in the league with quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions have one of the weaker running games in the NFL. Veteran running back Reggie Bush has been banged up all season with injuries, but tailback Joique Bell has stepped up nicely as the main rushing option for Detroit.
However, the Lions' rushing attacks ranks in the bottom five of the NFL. As the old adage goes, teams that win need to run the football. A team that ran the football well and won the Super Bowl was the Ravens. Who was their running back? Ray Rice. Like the Cardinals, Rice would be a strong addition to a younger locker room with little playoff experience. Furthermore, Rice could be a nice compliment to the Lions' already-elite passing attack.
Naturally, a team sitting at 5-7 is not even thinking about the playoffs. However, when a 5-7 record means that you're tied for first place in the division, then that changes things up quite a bit.
With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Atlanta Falcons are tied with the New Orleans Saints atop the atrocious NFC South with identical 5-7 records. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Falcons would lay claim to the division title and host a first-round playoff game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
Unlike the Seahawks, the Falcons do not have a very strong rushing attack. The Falcons' offense is very heavily pass-concentrated, featuring Pro Bowl wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. Therefore, a more developed running game could take some pressure off of quarterback Matt Ryan and establish a multifaceted offensive attack for Atlanta.
While veteran tailback Steven Jackson controls the reins to the running game, Rice could be a nice addition to this rushing attack and help strengthen the Falcons' offense going down the stretch this season.
San Diego Chargers
Standing at 8-4 and holding a Wild Card spot in the AFC playoff picture, the San Diego Chargers control their destiny the rest of the way this season. However, that does not mean the Chargers cannot find a way to improve and possibly make a late run at the Denver Broncos for the AFC West title. One way to improve offensively is through the running game, as the Chargers have the fewest number of rushing touchdowns in the NFL.
Outside of the putrid Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans, San Diego has the worst overall rushing attack of playoff-contending teams in the AFC. Starting tailback Ryan Matthews has been hurt all season, while the rest of the running back brigade for the Chargers (Donald Brown, Branden Oliver, Ronnie Brown) has failed to step up and solidify the position.
In addition, the Chargers are a pass-heavy offense that could use some relief by way of a steady running game. Hence where Rice would fit in well, as the Pro Bowl tailback would alleviate pressure from veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers from having to constantly make all the big plays. Establishing a strong run game with Rice would only strengthen San Diego's already-impressive passing attack.
The Indianapolis Colts seem to be on their way to a second straight AFC South title and hosting a playoff game, but their running game could be an area of serious concern when the calender flips to January for the postseason. The Colts have actually not had a bad running game this season; the problem is that Indianapolis just does not have a dependable running back to turn to right now.
While veteran running back Ahmad Bradshaw is out for the season after steady production before his injury, Trent Richardson has been nothing short of a failure in the NFL. In addition, the Colts lead the NFL in rushing fumbles with 10 so far this season. Needless to say, there's an obvious need for a running back like Rice who can makes plays and who rarely puts the ball on the ground.
Rice would immediately step in as the starting back and contribute to the Colts' explosive offensive attack led by Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck and wideouts T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne. With an already incredibly strong passing game, Rice could takeover from Bradshaw and help push the Colts to a potential first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
The Denver Broncos may be tied for both the best record in the NFL and the top spot in the AFC, but the Broncos' lack of strength running the football is near the top of their list of concerns. While the Broncos' passing attack is one of the best in the NFL with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and an elite group of receivers leading the way, the Broncos rank in the bottom third of the league in total rushing offense.
The loss of Knowshon Moreno to free agency this past offseason and injuries to both Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman has crippled the Broncos' rushing attack. Fortunately, second-year running back C.J. Anderson has emerged from the pack and produced from the get-go for the Broncos. However, the jury seems to be still out on whether or not Anderson can be a dependable, everyday running back for the Broncos in the postseason.
Therefore, a veteran running back with a plethora of playoff experience like Rice would be an ideal fit for the Broncos in helping to mentor Anderson's development as a professional football player. The addition of Ray Rice to this team would only strengthen its offense and overall chances of returning back to the Super Bowl.
Pat Ralph is a junior at Villanova University. He has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles, as well as Villanova Basketball and the New York Knicks. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph