State of the Blackball Report

Geoff, is the NFL blackballing Ray Rice?
What about Tim Tebow?

“I don’t know” and “I doubt it”, respectively. I would never assume that the owners haven’t blacklisted someone (the baseball owners colluded not to sign free agents when Peter Ueberroth was commissioner).

That said, it seems unlikely that teams are refusing to sign Rice Rice due entirely to his off-the-field conduct (or, if you’re a Trump voter, “political correctness”). I would not sign Ray Rice, for a number of reasons:

1. There was reason to think he was declining, even before the suspension. Rice averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie. Be boosted it to 5.3 in his first 1,000-yard season. It fell to 4.0 the next year,k but rebounded to 4.7 yards the year after that. In both seasons, he was over 1,200 yards.

In 2012, his average dropped to 4.4 yards; total yards fell to 1,165. That’s down in both payoff and the average.

In 2013– even though he missed only one game– he collected only 665 yards and averaged only 3.1 per carry.

Unless a player was well over 5.0 yards a carry (which is usually the result of a bunch of 40+ yard runs; usually against the Browns), a drop of more than a yard a game usually indicates a significant drop in ability.

2. He’s already at the point where careers end. A running back needs to have his career measured in carries, not seasons. A few years of getting hammered 300+ times will usually wipe a player out.

Even though Rice has only played six seasons– he was 26 in his last year– Rice is 87th on the list of total carries. At 1,430 attempts, he’s tied with Duce Staley (9 years, mostly with the Eagles), three carries ahead of former KC back Larry Johnson (8 years; he’s the Johnson who had the two 1,7,000-yard season), and 22 behind Calvin Hill.(12 years).

Point being that many players have finished their careers around this point.

3. Rice’s height and weight don’t suggest he would be durable. He’s 5’9″ and 195. That’s two inches taller than Joe Morris, whose career ended after 1,411 carries (19 less than Rice). Wendell Tyler was done at 1,344.

Even great backs finish soon after 1,250. Joe Cribbs was done at 1,309; Mike Garrett 1,308.

I would not have recommended signing Rice two seasons ago.

Didn’t the Ravens have a really weak line that year?

That’s what Rice and his agent claim, The problem is that there is no way to verify it. The 2013 Ravens didn’t have a back who struggled– but got a meaningful number of carries in 2014 (when they made some wholesale changes):

  • In 2013, Bernard Pierce carried 152 times for 436 yards (2.9 per carry).
  • In 2014, Pierce carried 93 times for 366 yards (3.9 a carry).

Nobody else was on the team.

Isn’t a one-yard gain proof?

You want to make a decision to sign a player based on a data set of 245 carries in two seasons? I would not do that, unless I saw a huge upside and a low downside.

The upside is you get a two-time Pro Bowl back

Maybe– but not for very long. 2,000 career carries is the point where the wheels come off for almost every back. Only 39 backs have carried more than 2,000 times

Rice is down at 87 on that list. If you count total touches, he’s at 1,807– 76th on the all-time list.

At 1,430, Rice almost certainly probably doesn’t have more than 600 carries left. So that’s 2-3 years as a starter.

Against that, you have the very large possibility that maybe he’s already done. Plus the clubhouse problems you create if you bring him in.

What clubhouse problems? People say Rice is a great teammate. Plus he’s a veteran with a ring.

These clubhouse problems. Let’s say you sign Rice to a one-year deal with a low salary and incentives out the wazoo.

Let’s assume you can even do that. That’s why Tebow isn’t in the league. Every time a team called his agent, Tebow would say he wanted assurances that he would play quarterback only and have a fair chance to compete for the job.

But say you do. Squire Johnson (he’s not good enough to be a Duke) and Isiah Crowell get angry– and their friends get angry. You split the team.

Now say that Rice starts three games, but splits time– and he’s averaging 3.5 yards, about the same as Johnson and Crowell. All three guys are complaining that their production is taking a hit because they’re not getting enough touches.

You’d be crazy to keep starting Rice. But if you cut him, his friends on the team will be furious and his enablers in the media (locally and nationally) will say you never gave him a chance.

Who signs a player like that? Not a building team– they need long-term solutions. And not a team planning to contend but in need of a better running game– they want a guarantee.

On top of all that, you have the punch– which guarantees that you’ll have to explain yourself to every media outlet in the country. Coupled with the odds he’s done anyway, why bother?

So you think his career is over?

After two years out of the game? Yes. He’s two years older, his skills have decayed from not playing. The data is against him. Plus you have circumstantial evidence that he’s finished.

What do you mean? 

Rice’s best shot to make a comeback was to pray for someone hoping to make the playoffs have their #1 back go down early– and then lose the backup to injury (or have him not play well). The team is desperate, the season is going down the tubes. Maybe this guy can help. Plus I’m a great coach and I can coach away all his issues.

There were two teams in that situation last year– both with coaches respected enough to make a Rice signing work. Seattle had Marshawn Lynch and his backups wipe out, then New England lost all the backs in their rotation.

When Pete Carroll and Bill Belicheat don’t want you– even if you might help them win it all– I’d say that’s a sign you’re done.

 

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