It comes at a cost of $7.7 million and prevents him from becoming an unrestricted free agent prior to an NFL deadline Monday to use the tag. The move coincided with the AFC North champions cutting cornerback Chris Carr and wide receiver Lee Evans.
The Ravens also placed running back Ricky Williams on the reserve-retired list, retaining his rights should he change his mind and end his retirement for the second time.
None of the developments come as a surprise.
"As we have in the past, placing the franchise designation on a player allows us to keep negotiating on a long-term contract," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Our goal is to keep Ray Rice a Raven. We've done this with other outstanding players through our history, including Haloti Ngata a year ago."
Team officials met with Rice's agent at the NFL scouting combine, but no deal is imminent at this time. The Ravens' primary negotiating focus right now is trying to strike a contract extension with quarterback Joe Flacco.
Now, the Ravens have until July 16 to work out a long-term deal with Rice. Otherwise, Rice, 25, would play next season under the franchise tag.
"We obviously were well aware the tag was coming," agent Todd France told the Times. "We're going to continue to have an open dialogue and an amicable negotiation process with the Ravens in an effort to lock Ray up to a long-term contract that compensates Ray relative to his highly-successful achievements on the field as well as all of his intangibles that don't show up on the stat sheet."
Rice rushed for a career-high 1,364 yards last season, leading the NFL with 2,068 total yards from scrimmage as he led the Ravens with 76 receptions and was named to his second Pro Bowl.
No one has gained more yards from scrimmage over the past three seasons than Rice with 5,885 yards.
Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson is the highest-paid back in the league under a seven-year, $100 million contract that includes $36 million in guaranteed money last year. It's been rumored that's the kind of deal Rice is seeking. Tennessee Titans star running back Chris Johnson signed a four-year, $53 million contract that included $30 million in guaranteed money.
When asked about the Peterson contract demand rumor, France, told the Times: "Maybe it's because people assume since Ray has led the NFL in yards from scrimmage since becoming a full-time starter in 2009 that he should be the highest-paid running back in the NFL. Regardless of where it came from or who said what, I won't comment on any specifics of our negotiations except to say my focus is to have an amicable negotiation process that results in a long-term contract for our client."
The Ravens have traditionally utilized the franchise tag to provide more time to sign a standout player to a longer deal, including signing Ngata to a five-year, $61 million contract last September as well as previous deals with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Chris McAlister.
"We have used the franchise tag only so we can get a long-term deal," Newsome said at the NFL scouting combine. "We would like Ray Rice to have a long career in Baltimore. If we have to franchise him, that would be the reason why."
In the case of Suggs and McAlister, they were franchised twice before deals were hammered out.
Under NFL rules, Rice doesn't have to attend any offseason activities. If he wants to, Rice can skip the offseason program, minicamps, training camp and games until he reports and signs his one-year tender.
"Yeah, I definitely prefer long-term over franchise tag," Rice told the Times days after the Ravens' AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots. "I'm not going to complain about the franchise tag, either. It puts yourself in a position where you play that year out and guys have done it, but I prefer the long-term. That's what Baltimore, the city, the fans, they would love to know that Ray Rice is going to be here, not just one year, but for many years to come."
Evans dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, the defining moment of his season in Baltimore after being acquired via a trade from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.
Evans was due a $3.275 million base salary and carried a $5.607 million salary-cap figure. And a $1 million roster bonus was due March 18 if he had still been on the team. He caught only four passes for 74 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season as he dealt with a foot and ankle problem for the bulk of the season.
Released one year into a four-year, $14 million contract that included a $3.8 million signing bonus, Carr was scheduled to make a $2.5 million base salary and carried a $3.45 million salary-cap figure for next season.
"Each year, we have to make tough, difficult decisions to manage our roster," Newsome said. "Chris Carr and Lee Evans were valuable Ravens, and both helped us get to the AFC Championship game and the brink of the Super Bowl last season with the way they played and the maturity they added to the locker room.
"Chris was instrumental in helping us earn the playoffs the last three seasons. As we talked about when we informed Chris and Lee of these moves, this does not close the door on them coming back to the Ravens."
Carr said goodbye to the Ravens after being informed of his release Thursday by Newsome and coach John Harbaugh.
Carr struggled with hamstring and back injuries that limited him to nine games last season after starting every game the previous year.
His production dipped from 67 tackles, two interceptions, eight pass deflections and three forced fumbles in 2010. Last season, he started one game and recorded 19 tackles, one sack, three pass deflections and no interceptions.
"My time in Baltimore has been tremendous to say the least, I will always think back to my days here with a deep appreciation," Carr wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "I completely agree with the decision, I think it was good business for the both of us, and I was not surprised at all. After the season ended I knew I would be traded or released, and frankly that is what I wanted as well. I felt that I needed a fresh start. My injuries along with younger guys playing well, I felt it would be unfair to keep four guys who have proven they can start in the league.
"Plus with my salary being too high to be a potential backup. It was an ambivalent feeling because I love it here, but good things always come to an end so you just have to embrace it, be thankful, and move on. My meeting with John and Ozzie went well, we thanked each other for everything. I plan on playing some more, and I have no expectations going into free agency."
It may take a few days for the Ravens to determine Foxworth's roster status because of his health.
Foxworth met with Newsome on Thursday and will take a physical on a surgically-repaired knee in a few days. As a member of the NFL Players Association executive committee, Foxworth could retire and pursue a career in the players' union leadership.
Under his $27 million contract, Foxworth is due a $5.6 million base salary and an $8.6 million salary-cap figure for next season. His release isn't regarded as imminent, but he is expected to be off the roster by the time free agency begins March 13.
Meanwhile, Rice's future is assured despite teams' natural inclination to be wary of paying so much money at a position where absorbing heavy punishment is part of the job description.
Rice has been extremely durable and productive, finishing second in the NFL in rushing last season behind Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
He ranks second in franchise history with 4,377 yards, behind Jamal Lewis' 7,801 yards. Over the past three seasons, only Johnson and Jones-Drew have rushed for more yards than Rice's 3,923 total.
"Ray Rice is a terrific player with the ability to run inside and outside, he's effective on screens and is really a great back as a runner and a receiver," former Houston Texans and Washington Redskins general manager Charlie Casserly said. "He's an integral part of the offense. How do you pay him? You have to accept the risk going in that there's a chance of injury and you pay him what you feel like is fairly good market value. You hope for the best and you expect the worst-case scenario.
"There are so many unknowns, and durability is a big thing to consider. You have to wonder what's the breaking point as far as number of hits. You just have to understand that's part of it. At the end of the day, that doesn't deter the contract negotiations that much. It comes down wanting to get the best play on the field. Yes, you can keep franchising the player until it's no longer worth it to do so. I don't think that's what they have in mind with Rice."
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