On Thursday, Ray Rice completed his pre-trial intervention program for the February 2014 incident in which he struck his then-fiancé Janay Palmer (she is now his wife) in an elevator. His third-degree aggravated assault charge has been dismissed after he successfully fulfilled all terms of an intervention program that lasted a year. With his NFL suspension overturned, Rice is available to any NFL team willing to give him a second chance.
Rice will have to remain patient for that opportunity, however. It will be very difficult for a team to sign him before the start of training camp, and here's why:
As we've seen over the past couple of years, the toughest thing for a team signing or drafting a player with a controversial past is the negative public reaction that comes with it. Let's say Rice signs with a team in the next week. The initial image of Rice will be the video of him striking his wife, not what he says in his first press conference with his new team or what he is doing on the football field.
A signing close to the start of training camp will reduce the amount of time fans and media linger on Rice's off-field incident. Instead, they will be watching Rice the football player, and the football images can slowly replace the negative images that have been associated with him for the past year. We've seen this happen with several players in the past, including Michael Vick when he returned to the field following his imprisonment for running a dogfighting operation.
There are also football reasons working against Rice. The NFL is welcoming one of the best rookie running back classes of the past decade in 2015. Other teams resolved running back needs through trades or signings. And Rice was coming off one of his worst seasons as a Raven prior to his legal issues (his lowest yardage total since his rookie season, and the lowest yards per carry average of his career), leading some to question whether the 28 year old has much left to offer.
Even with all of those factors working against him, however, there is still a good chance a team will bring him in at the start of training camp and give him a chance to make a roster. Here are five teams that would make the most sense for him:
1. Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones appears to be content with starting the season with Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden running behind the best offensive line in football, but Rice could be an option if something happens to either player (Randle has had his own off-field issues, and McFadden has an extensive injury history). As he's shown with the additions of Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory and La'el Collins, Jones is willing to take some chances on players with behavioral and/or legal issues in their past. The Cowboys are currently considering adding veteran RBs Felix Jones and Ben Tate.
2. Cleveland Browns: The Browns might want to see how their young running backs -- second-year pros Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, and 2015 third-rounder Duke Johnson -- are performing in the preseason before considering Rice. But if one or more of those guys struggles in camp, Rice might be an option.
3. Oakland Raiders: Raiders ownership might not want to deal with the public relations implications of signing Rice -- the same can be said for the other four teams on this list -- but this is something of a need position for Oakland. Latavius Murray showed promise last season but isn't yet a sure thing as an NFL lead back, and former No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson has struggled to a 3.3 yards-per-carry average in his young career.
4. New England Patriots: This one makes football sense, if the Patriots can look past having to deal with another potential off-field distraction. They lost Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley in free agency and LeGarrette Blount is suspended for the opener, so they could use depth at the running back position.
5. Indianapolis Colts: This one would only make sense if the Colts wanted to add injury insurance for free-agent pickup Frank Gore; the Colts have been thrilled with adding Gore so far. Head coach Chuck Pagano knows and respects Rice from their time together in Baltimore, so there's some familiarity here.