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Ravens, Rice in a tough spot when it comes to contract talks

Ten years ago you didn’t think twice about paying a versatile player like Ray Rice top market value. Given his age, his production, and his contribution in an offense, a team wouldn’t balk at his price tag.

But times are a changing.

Rice is believed to be seeking $10 million a year from the Baltimore Ravens, who are reportedly unwilling to pay their top offensive piece Adrian Peterson-type money. AP just signed a seven-year, $96 million extension with the Vikings last September and the deal includes $36 million in guaranteed money. In that same month, Chris Johnson signed a six-year, $55.26 million deal with the Titans that also included $30 million in guarantees.
Seeing as how Peterson tore his ACL and Johnson produced his worst season as a pro, you can understand why the Ravens are hesitant to pay Rice what he wants. The other issue is that running backs aren’t worth what they were 10, or even seven years ago. Nowadays, most teams believe that investing big money in a running back is unnecessary given how you can find a productive back in the middle rounds of the draft. Plus, by the time backs are 30 their production dips dramatically and they prove they’re not worth the investment.

That said, Rice shouldn’t be criticized for trying to cash in during his prime. As previously noted, he’s been an extremely productive back and for all intents and purposes, has been the entire Baltimore offense at times. NFL players have a very small window in which to be productive and get that long-term contract before the game pushes them out. Rice is merely protecting his biggest investment (himself) and in no way is that intended to make him sound selfish.

But unfortunately for Rice, he also plays running back in a passing era. No team, not even the Ravens after having a front row seat to his splendor over the last four years, is going to pay a running back $10 million a year. That’s just the way it is.

So what’s the solution? Rice should take a long, hard look at the contract LeSean McCoy just signed with the Eagles. “Shady” received a six-year, $45.615 million contract that also includes $20.765 million in guaranteed money. While McCoy is “only” making $7.5 million a year, the guaranteed portion of the contract is what really matters. No, Rice wouldn’t receive $30-plus million in guaranteed money like Peterson or Johnson, but $20 million for a running back in this era wouldn’t be chump change either.

If you’re Rice, you would hate to feel like your compromising but he and his agent must realize that he’s not going to get a deal worth $10 million a year, which also includes with $30 million in guarantees. All things being considered, McCoy’s contract should be what Rice his ultimately shooting for.

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Could a deal between Chris Johnson and the Titans get done this weekend?

Tennessee Titans Chris Johnson (R) evades a tackle by Jacksonville Jaguars Justin Durant (L) during the second half of their Monday night NFL football game in Jacksonville, Florida, October 18, 2010. For the first time this season, 2009′s surprise NFL rushing leader has put together back-to-back 100-yard games. The clincher came in an 111-yard performance on Monday that had Johnson toiling late into the Titans’ 30-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. To match Feature NFL-TITANS/JOHNSON. REUTERS/Daron Dean (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

There has been a whirlwind of reports to come over the last two days regarding Chris Johnson’s contract status, so let’s get caught up on the latest.

- Yahoo’s Jason Cole reported Tuesday that the Titans and Johnson are still $10 million apart on guaranteed money. Cole says that Johnson wants $30 million guaranteed and $12 million per season as a base, but the Titans apparently believe the deal should contain $20 million in guarantees and $8 million a year.

- The NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora says he “wouldn’t be shocked” if Johnson and the Titans had a “breakthrough” in their discussions by this weekend. While he did say that nothing was certain, La Canfora believes that a new deal could be done in time to have Johnson play in Week 1.

- While appearing on NFL Network’s Total Access, Michael Lombardi said that the Titans are “ready to make an offer” that will get Johnson to report to practice. He also said that the team is ready to open up “the bank vault” in order to pay him. Just like La Canfora, Lombardi seems to think that a new deal could be expected by this weekend.

- The Nashville Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt writes that both sides want to get a deal worked out now but “nothing has changed” regarding Johnson’s contract situation. Rotoworld.com seems to think that Wyatt “got word” from the Titans management in attempts for the team to regain leverage following Lombardi’s report.

It seems to me that the truth lies somewhere between La Canforna and Lombardi’s optimism and Cole and Wyatt’s rationalism. I get the sense that a deal could be struck this weekend but the two sides are still further apart than people realize.

Whatever. None of this is important. The only thing that matters is that Johnson’s ass is in uniform Week 1 so that I can look like a genius for drafting him in the second round of one of my fantasy leagues. I mean really, let’s cut the crap and get down to what truly matters here.

Could Frank Gore demand trade?

San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore (21) is tackled by his jersey in the second half against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on September 20, 2010. The Saints defeated the 49ers 25-22 on a last second field goal. UPI/Terry Schmitt

ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that negotiations between Frank Gore and the 49ers are “going slowly” and that the star running back is frustrated. While Schefter’s report doesn’t mention anything about a trade demand, that seems like the next likely step if Gore’s frustrations continue to grow.

The Niners are in a tough spot here. Obviously they want to keep the 28-year-old back, but the Panthers overpaid DeAngelo Williams and they don’t want to do the same with Gore. San Fran lured its RB back to training camp with the promise to look at his contract, but it’s doubtful that Gore will receive anywhere near what Williams got from Carolina (i.e. $21 million guaranteed).

Although he’s younger and has been more productive, the situation could get worse if the Titans ever pony up and pay Chris Johnson. Once Gore’s camp sees all of those dollar signs being thrown at running backs, they’re going to make a case that their guy should be paid as well.

Of course, Johnson and the Titans appear nowhere closer to agreeing to a new contract than at the start of training camp. Johnson reportedly left Nashville on Sunday without meeting with Titans management and thus, the stalemate continues in Tennessee. With Larry Fitzgerald landing $50 million guaranteed, I don’t know what the Titans are waiting for.

Titans ready to make Chris Johnson highest paid back in NFL?

Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) breaks past Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett (58) for a 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Colts 23-20 win at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis on January 2, 2011. UPI /Mark Cowan

Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said Thursday that he’s ready to make Chris Johnson the highest-paid running back in the NFL.

From the New York Times:

General manager Mike Reinfeldt told The Associated Press on Thursday that Johnson’s agent was the first person they called once the NFL’s lockout was lifted. The Titans reworked Johnson’s contract a year ago to give him more money in 2010 and promised to talk to him again a year later.

Reinfeldt says they already have talked about the perimeters of this new deal for Johnson and would like to have the running back in camp to learn the offense with a new coach while negotiations are finished.

This has always been a no-brainer in my eyes. Johnson has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL the past couple of years and arguably deserves to be the highest paid RB in the league.

It’s not like this is a risky proposition for the Titans, or at least not in the way signing a player coming off an injury or a down year would be. Johnson is only 25 and barring injury, he presumably has four or five productive years left in him. If the Titans make him the highest-paid running back now and lock him in for five years, then everyone (i.e. the player, the team and the fan base) should be happy.

Of course, there are always unforeseen issues that arise. Maybe Johnson will be upset in three years because another running back has surpassed him in terms of their contract status. Maybe he’ll get paid and shut it down like Randy Moss did when he got to Oakland. Who knows? We can only go off the information presently at hand and the information presently at hand suggests to pay the man what he’s worth and reap the benefits of having him locked up for the next X amount of years.

Is it time for the Titans to pony up and pay Chris Johnson?

Tennessee Titans Chris Johnson watches from the sidelines during the first half of their NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Florida October 18, 2010. REUTERS/Daron Dean (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Contract holdouts used to irritate me in professional sports. An athlete and a team come together on a deal with the intentions of honoring said commitment. Then the athlete feels underpaid and holds his team hostage until he gets what he wants. Considering teams can’t ask for their money back when an athlete gives a Barry Zito-type performance year after year, the whole notion of a holdout didn’t sit right with me.

But that was a rather juvenile way of looking at the situation. In the NFL, teams can’t ask for money back but they can cut a player without honoring their commitment, so why shouldn’t athletes bargain for more money when they’ve outperformed their contract? At the end of the day, whether you’re a professional athlete or working out of a cubicle, you use the leverage you have to get as much as you can (within reason, of course) before that team or company decides it’s done with you.

Over the past week, there have been multiple reports that Chris Johnson will not report to training camp without a lucrative new contract. Set to earn just $800,000 this year despite being the NFL’s best back, it’s hard to blame Johnson for forcing the Titans into a corner. He still has two years left on his current deal, but it’s a deal in which he has outperformed.

There are a couple of reasons why the Titans shouldn’t give into Johnson’s demands (assuming he does holdout, that is), starting with the position he plays. Running backs just aren’t as valuable as they were 8-10 years ago. It’s a passing league now and if teams concentrate their efforts into building a decent O-line, they don’t have to break the bank for a top back. And considering the NFL is now a two-back league, committing a bunch of money to that position seems rather unproductive.

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