Speaking with ESPN yesterday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith pretty heavily suggested that there’s a concerted effort by owners to keep Ray Rice out of the league.
“This, unfortunately, is a league that has a history of blackballing players. I find it hard to believe that a player of Mr. Rice’s caliber hasn’t at least gotten one offer from a team to come work out,” Smith said.
It’s a strong accusation, and it’s probably not wrong (Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard declared back in November that owners would collude to shun Rice “as a favor to Roger Goodell”), though it’s entirely unprovable. There’s a difference between being blackballed and being a pariah.
Would there normally be at least a workout invitation for a 28-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl running back who’s probably willing to work for relatively cheap? Sure.
What if that running back hadn’t played pro football since 2013, and that season had seen his YPC drop more than a full yard off his career average? Ehhh, maybe.
And what if that running back had been at the center of the biggest scandals to strike the NFL in years, one that embarrassed just about everyone in power and made the league synonymous with domestic violence issues, a yoke it desperately wants to shake? (“Every time a guy gets in trouble for domestic violence,” one front-office executive told Sports Illustrated, referring to Ray McDonald, “it gets harder for Ray Rice to get back in.”) No wonder he’s still out of a job.
The dozen unnamed coaches and personnel executives polled in that SI piece were roughly split on whether they believed Rice will ever play in the NFL again, though, tellingly, the ones who believe he’ll be back made no claims that their teams were interested. Even those who think Rice deserves a chance don’t seem inclined to give it to him.
That’s the difference between collusion and calculus. It’s not unlikely that 32 teams would agree among themselves not to sign Ray Rice. But given his age, statistical trajectory, and the PR headaches his signing would bring, it’s even more likely that 32 teams would come to the same decision independently.