A year later, Ray Rice may have to face harsh reality

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice issued a statement to The Baltimore Sun two days before the one-year anniversary of his domestic violence arrest, apologizing for his "horrible mistake" and thanking his supporters.

"This is not a farewell or goodbye," Rice said.

In terms of his football career, Rice may have to come to grips that this is farewell. No team has called Rice since his reinstatement in late November, and it's a distinct possibility that no team signs him this offseason.

Rice can say "one bad decision can turn your dream into a nightmare," but that's only part of the reason he remains unemployed. What can't be overlooked is that he's a 28-year-old runner (an age often seen as over the hill for that position) with a lot of wear and tear. He had the fourth-worst rushing average (3.1 yards per carry) in the NFL the last time he suited up.

The harsh reality that Rice may have to face is teams don't think he's worth the public relations nightmare of signing him.

Some will point to recent developments as bringing increased hope for Rice. The Buffalo Bills signed guard Richie Incognito this month after he was out of football for a year and a half following the Miami Dolphins' bullying incident. Several teams could be interested in free-agent defensive end Greg Hardy after domestic violence charges were dismissed. The Minnesota Vikings are apparently ready to welcome back running back Adrian Peterson after his child abuse scandal.

The difference between those players and Rice is what they can bring to the field, especially in the case of Peterson. Teams are more willing to deal with the negative backlash if that player can run for 1,300 yards, score double-digit touchdowns and single-handedly win games. This is why Peterson is ensured of playing again -- whether it's with the Vikings or another team -- and Rice is not.

The last 363 days have been a dramatic fall for Rice. He was once an advocate for an anti-bullying campaign who regularly spoke in front of thousands of fans at events. He was the face of the franchise in the community who sported milk mustaches alongside the mayor of Baltimore and gave out $20 bills to kids for dancing and doing pushups in an effort to get the city's youth more fit.

That image was forever changed on Feb. 15, when he struck his then-fiancee unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City elevator. A video ingrained that incident into the minds of a nation, which ultimately led to the Ravens holding a jersey exchange with fans, and his alma mater, Rutgers, removing his photos from its football stadium.

But history shows that an NFL player's future is based more on his current skill level than past mistakes. Rice doesn't only have to convince teams that he's a changed person. He has to make them believe that he can help their offense more than someone else.

It doesn't help Rice's chances that teams can find productive running backs in free agency, from DeMarco Murray to Frank Gore to C.J. Spiller to Justin Forsett, who replaced Rice with the Ravens. The draft offers such exciting young runners as Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Georgia's Todd Gurley.

No one knows whether Rice has played his final snap in the NFL. That question will likely be answered over the next couple of months. It's not surprising that Rice's latest mea culpa comes a few weeks before the start of free agency.

The decision goes beyond Rice's character or past transgressions. It's whether a team believes Rice is worth the national scrutiny.