In a move that everyone expected, the Ravens placed the franchise tag on running back Ray Rice this afternoon.
Now comes the uncertainty: Will Rice hold out of training camp to protest the tag?
The Ravens don't think so. Let me rephrase that. The Ravens hope he doesn't.
"I would be surprised, just knowing Ray and I know how much he loves football," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last week at the NFL combine. "I think he understands there's not leverage to be gained by doing that. Guys who've done that haven't come out and played well. That would never be the way to get a contract here. That's not how the Ravens have operated."
My initial prediction was similar to Harbaugh's thinking. Rice has been the consummate team player. He is very conscious of his public image and doesn't want to turn off fans. For weeks, I thought it was a near certainty that Rice wouldn't hold out. But that has changed.
Now, I think there's a good chance that Rice will miss at least the first couple weeks of training camp, and he shouldn't be vilified for it. Rice is well within his rights to do so. By putting the tag on Rice, the Ravens are only on the hook for this season. The team has given no long-term security to Rice, so why should he risk long-term consequences by participating in a full training camp?
Harbaugh says no leverage can be gained by holding out. But Rice could lose a lot if he gets injured. It would make perfect sense for Rice to skip the first couple of weeks of training camp, when there is more hitting and contact drills. Rice takes care of himself, so there isn't a concern that he would report out of shape.
The Ravens, though, have a history of taking care of the players who get the franchise tag. The last three Ravens players who received it -- cornerback Chris McAlister, linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- all eventually signed lucrative multiyear deals.
"As we have in the past, placing the franchise designation on a player allows us to keep negotiating on a long-term contract," Ravens 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."