By Paul Wanecski
The Buffalo Bills will not be signing Ray Rice. Now that the storm has passed it is important to know why. For starters, the Buffalo Bills become named as a possible landing spot for Rice for to a variety of reasons. On top of that, the massive amounts of negative media that would hit the press the moment the former Baltimore Raven running back signs with a team would be more stress than it might be worth in adding the former pro-bowl player. Negotiating this kind of a contract is also risky business, especially since former Tennessee Titans and New York Jets running back Chris Johnson just signed in Arizona.
Clearly on the surface, the only similarity between these two players is that they both play the same position; that actually isn't totally true. Johnson just signed a contract with the Cardinals for the veteran league minimum. As discussed in a previous article (Why The Bills Are Waiting), veterans who sign for league minimum under certain circumstances grant the team they are signing with a salary cap credit to match what a two-year veteran would be making. This was done in order to allow veterans to be able to make more money than a rookie, however, count against the salary cap equally. The reason that Chris Johnson's signing impacts players like Ray Rice or Pierre Thomas (both successful, established veterans without a team) is because market value has been set.
We saw this often with the NFL Draft prior to the installation of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Players who were selected at the top of the draft would hold-out, waiting for others to sign offers with teams to establish value on the players ahead or behind them. It was like a waterfall, cascading down value through the first round of the draft. It was a time consuming process that caused many players to miss large parts of the off-season programs with new teams. Since the CBA has been implemented, rookie wage scales have been instituted to value the draft slots on a predetermined basis.
The details of Johnson's deal go like this:
Length - One Year
Base Value - $870,000
Signing Bonus - None
Incentives - All performance based, must rush for 1300 yards and make the Pro Bowl to earn additional $2 million dollars.
That incentive is listed as "unlikely to be earned", meaning that it does not count against the team's salary cap. If he were to hit those goals, the incentive would be taken out of next year's salary cap. As of now, because Johnson has no signing bonus his salary cap number, even with the incentives in the deal, is only $585,000. It may not seem like a big difference but this was a death-blow to Thomas and Rice.
Thomas was recently unable to reach a deal with the Houston Texans because they were apart on contract details. It is likely Houston wanted to drive his contract in this direction, but since market value was not established for a player in his situation, he passed. Houston is clearly Thomas's best chance to play with Arian Foster on the shelf. Rice comes with a similar problem outside of the pressure and baggage he has in tow. A one-year deal at league minimum with no signing bonus is what he should have been anticipating prior given his circumstances. What his agent was telling him may have been different.
Johnson's signing will make veteran running backs a known commodity which could be encouraging for them to find a home, although the number of inquiries will be low. Not building in a signing bonus only benefits the team. If the player is released, the remaining guaranteed money and signing bonus needs to be accounted for against the salary cap. No signing bonus and no guaranteed money mean that a player can be released with no financial strings. You have to imagine that any team that would want to bring in Ray Rice will want an out in the deal.
Simply speaking, the Buffalo Bills were a logical choice for Ray Rice. Since the hiring of Rex Ryan, they have brought in three players with recent discipline issues. Obviously, if the Bills signed Rice, it would be slightly (and I mean very slightly) more accepted given the building of the roster this offseason. Even with the injury issues currently ravaging the team's running back depth, Rice is not an option for the Bills. While the money at play is far expensive, the investment versus the hassle just doesn't appear worth the trouble.