OWINGS MILLS — Emotional and suddenly wealthy, Ray Rice felt his instincts tugging him in a singular direction after applying his signature to a $40 million contract that included a $15 million signing bonus.
The Baltimore Ravens’ star running back wanted to see his mother, jetting up the highway in his white Mercedes back to his hometown in New York after leaving team headquarters a week ago when Rice’s agent, Todd France, and Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty narrowly beat an NFL deadline to finalize deals for franchise players.
A single mother who educates special-needs children in New Rochelle, N.Y., Janet Rice had raised Rice by herself ever since his father died in a drive-by shooting when the future All-Pro selection was just a year old.
Rice’s first purchase: buying his mother a house.
"I went home, packed a duffel bag, drove on up to New York, I think I was on the phone the whole three hours," Rice said Wednesday after reporting to training camp. "The first person I went to see was my mom. She knows that we all have been through in my life and our life. It was more of a relief on that end. As long as I know where I’m going to be for the next couple of years, as long as I take care of my business, I feel good."
Having taken care of his mother, Rice is aware that he’ll need to reward his blockers.
He bought fancy watches for the offensive line last year, a bunch of Breitling time pieces.
"They might up the ante on me," Rice said with a laugh. "I might have to take over the offensive dinner. The good place to take them because we have offensive linemen, they like to eat, is Fogo de Chao. It’s like an overpriced buffet. You got to let them eat."
For Rice, 25, his financial future is locked up tightly.
He’s due to make $24 million in the first 12 months of the deal between his signing bonus, base salaries and a $7 million option bonus due next March for the highest 12-month cash payout for a running back in NFL history.
Rice will make $29 million over the first three years, and his signing bonus exceeded the $12.5 million for Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and the $12 million for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s seven-year, $100 million deal that includes $36 million in guaranteed money.
"I see why guys are getting the contracts they’re getting," Rice said. "I never asked for Adrian Peterson kind of money. I don’t know how it got out there, but I was just told to keep my mouth shut at the time.
"I didn’t even want to be in situation where I had to hold out for more money. I just wanted to hold out for a fair deal and that’s what I got: a fair deal from the Ravens. Everything about it is fair. The way they structured it is fair. At the end of the day [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] told me, ‘I would be able to give you a fair deal.’ You come back 15 years from now, hopefully it’s Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor, whatever it is, I’ll be able to shake his hand if he’s still here and say, ‘I got a fair deal.’"
Over the next year, Rice would rank 17th on Sports Illustrated’s Fortunate 50 above NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and just below NBA players Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade. Rice would also rank in the top 40 of Forbes’ highest paid athletes in the world, above New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia and New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Rice is interested as much as longevity as he is in financial security.
And he’s banking on finishing his career in Baltimore.
"Hopefully, I’ll retire a Raven," Rice said. "That’s what it all boils down to. You’re in your second contract, and you think about long-term. That’ll be nine years of my life that I’ve been in Baltimore. Needless to say, Baltimore has become home for me. My license is Baltimore. I’m no longer a New Yorker, I just visit there now."
Rice led the NFL with 2,068 total yards from scrimmage last season, establishing himself as one of the most dynamic all-purpose backs in the game.
He rushed for 1,364 yards and a dozen touchdowns, but also led the Ravens with 76 catches.
The versatility was a major factor in the Ravens’ landmark investment in Rice, a former second-round draft pick from Rutgers.
Although diminutive at 5-foot-8, 212 pounds, Rice has only missed three games in his NFL career and has a running style that blends power and explosiveness.
"Adapting with the game, I think I bring more than just a battering ram," Rice said. "The way the quarterbacks are playing now, if you are a running back and you are not able to catch, then you become one-dimensional. I think that played to my benefit in getting my second contract is that I caught so many passes, caught so many balls, that when it was time to negotiate, it wasn’t just about, ‘Oh, he rushed for 1,000 yards.’
"I think the catching was what really put it over the top for me. I have been blessed. I haven’t really been banged-up. I don’t really take the hits that people think I really take. It might be a pounding, it might be a load on the carries, but as far as taking crunching hits, I think I do a pretty good job of avoiding them."
The Ravens are also trying to negotiate a long-term contract for quarterback Joe Flacco, who has shared the backfield with Rice since their arrival in Baltimore four years ago.
Rice expressed confidence that the Ravens will take care of Flacco soon. No deal is imminent, but both sides are highly motivated to get one done at some point this year and it’s regarded as an eventuality, not a possibility.
"One thing I know about Joe is he’s going to be a Raven for a long time," Rice said. "He’s already said that. Joe Flacco played a heck of a season last year. Joe Flacco has been a great quarterback for us. I know at the end of the day, it’s going to get taken care of.
"Quite frankly, they can take care of him now or they can take care of him later and they do have the option of the franchise tag, which gives them more time. When you bridge the gap, he’s going to get taken care of. It just might not happen when he wants to do it, but it’s going to get done. I’m not even sure he’s even worried about that."
Mirroring Flacco’s approach to negotiations, Rice took a hands-off approach and never complained about his unresolved status.
Patience and maturity ultimately paid off for the two-time Pro Bowl selection.
"Anybody who knows Ray knows that he’s just one of those special kids that comes to work and is going to do the right things," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I think for this organization to go ahead and do that in the early stages of his career, I think that’s awesome. Me and Ray talked about it, not to get frustrated, not to worry about other people signing deals, any of that.
"Just do what you need to do and focus on what you need to focus on. Have fun in the game, that contract side of it, getting done, I think is a big relief for Ray, though."
Striking a deal with minutes to spare, the Ravens and Rice avoided having him play this year under a $7.742 million franchise tag.
There was a strong possibility that Rice would have exercised his right to not sign the one-year tender and skipped training camp and even games to protest the tag.
“I already knew that I put myself in a position," Rice said. "Even with $7.7, I was never denying the franchise tag. You take $7.7 wherever you want to cut it, still, my family is going to be fine. When I signed, it was more like relief. ‘OK, that’s over with, the business side is done.’
"Playing under the franchise tag, for me mentally, would have said, ‘I wouldn’t have known if I would be a Raven next year.’ That’s where it scares you. It doesn’t scare you in terms of financial stability, because you are going to get that. But it scares you in terms of where am I going to be next year. That feeling, I don’t have to worry about.”
Now, Rice can concern himself with shedding any rust accumulated during an offseason spent away from his teammates and training on his own.
That included resistance training, carrying a weighted football, wearing a weighted vest during running drills and practicing the Ravens’ conditioning test, a series of timed 150-yard intervals.
Rice’s trainer, Mac James, said they spent a lot of time studying his stride frequency and running style to try to get even faster and be more of a breakaway threat.
Having rushed for 4,377 career yards to rank second in franchise history behind Jamal Lewis, Rice is hoping to play for the Ravens for a long time perhaps even signing a third contract one day.
"We know at running back, I maxed out this one and if you want to go on to a third one maybe to set me off to say, ‘You know what? Give me a chance to at least hang it up as a Raven,’" Rice said. "As long as I’m able to take care of my body, go out there and play the game fast and as long as I’m able to make people miss for a while, I think I can write my own chapter."