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Embattled running back Ray Rice won his appeal Friday following an indefinite suspension handed down to him by Commissioner Roger Goodell, and now he’s eligible to return to the NFL … that is, as long as a team is willing to sign him.
There are two looming factors that will determine whether or not Rice returns to a team in 2014. Prior to the suspension, there were already concerns about the back’s effectiveness following a disappointing 2013 campaign. And of course, second is the fact that he’s endured a lot of trouble and negative publicity for his actions away from the field, which could deter some organizations from bringing him on board.
If a team does take a chance on Rice, it will likely be for depth purposes, not to make him a featured back right away. Here are five teams battling for the playoffs that may consider signing Rice:
1. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are far and away the team in most need of help at the running back position. With Ahmad Bradshaw on the shelf for the remainder of the year, the workload is split between Dan Herron and the all-too-ineffective Trent Richardson.
Herron is a young, inexperienced back, and while he’s seizing the opportunity at hand, it couldn’t hurt to add a veteran with plenty of postseason experience to the mix. Either way, the Colts reportedly put in a waiver claim on Ben Tate, which indicates they must be hesitant about leaving the bulk of the work in Herron’s hands.
Chuck Pagano was with Baltimore while Rice was a star there, so he likely already has a solid relationship in place with the back. Indianapolis is one of the most highly regarded NFL organizations, so if there was such a thing as second chances, it could definitely happen with the Colts.
2. Arizona Cardinals
Behind Ellington, who is a tad on the injury prone side, is Stepfan Taylor, a cat named Marion Grice, and Michael Bush, who signed with the team earlier this week. None of those backups appear to be adequate fill-ins should Ellington go down with an injury, and even the ’13 version of Rice is an upgrade.
Like the Colts, Arizona was also reportedly in the mix for Tate once he was released by the Browns. They are looking for help in the backfield.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
After a six-year career in Baltimore, could you imagine Rice switching over to the Black and Yellow?
Rice has rushed for more than 600 yards and three touchdowns in his career against the Steelers while with their AFC North rivals, so they are well aware of what he’s capable of. And with LeGarrette Blount now out of town and in a Patriots uniform, the team could afford to add some depth behind Le’Veon Bell.
The Steelers are still vying for a division crown and remain very much alive in the Wild Card hunt, and Rice’s playoff experience could serve the team well, even if he’s reduced to merely a mentor for Bell, the second-year pro.
4. Miami Dolphins
Lamar Miller has been a fantastic surprise for the upstart Dolphins this season, as the second-year running back has started to come into his own under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. However, Miller has been slowed down by a knee injury over the past couple of weeks, and as a result the offense has had to see increased touches for Damien Williams and Daniel Thomas.
Rice could held pad the Dolphins’ depth until Miller is 100 percent healthy, and he could provide a veteran presence on a team that’s aiming to nab one of the two Wild Card spots in the AFC.
5. Denver Broncos
This may come as a surprise as Denver is just a week removed from its best rushing performance of the season. But then again, can C.J. Anderson be counted on to be the Broncos’ workhorse for the remainder of the season and into the playoffs?
There’s no question Montee Ball was disappointing early on as he tried to take over where Knowshon Moreno left off. Now he’s sidelined due to a groin injury for a second time, and there’s no guarantee when he’ll be healthy or if he’ll be effective upon his return.
Ronnie Hillman filled in admirably for Ball, but a foot injury is nagging him and could keep him on the sidelines for another month. Like Ball, there’s no knowing how effective Hillman will be when he does return.
For a team with as much as stake as the Broncos, it doesn’t make sense to leave the running game in the hands of Anderson and Juwan Thompson. Playing alongside Peyton Manning will be a relief for Rice.
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