Houston Texans running back Arian Foster: out for 8-10 weeks with a soft-tissue injury.
Sadly, I (like Texans owner Bob McNair) can’t say that I’m surprised.
What that means for the team is that they’ll need to find someone to replace one of the league’s top running backs, as he is going to miss games because of injury for the third straight season. For right now, it seems as though the team will turn to Foster’s backup, second-year player Alfred Blue, to take on the lead role, but there is certainly a chance they try to grab a veteran free-agent to help with the workload as well. One of the most common names that comes up when discussing free-agent running backs is former Ravens running back Ray Rice.
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On paper, it seems as though Rice may be just what Houston is looking for. He is a 3-time Pro-Bowler, and rushed for over 1,000 yards in four straight seasons from 2009-2012. He was an instrumental piece of Baltimore’s Super Bowl victory in 2012, and this kind of experience could be helpful to any team.
He has a career average of 100 yards from scrimmage per game, including 43 career touchdowns. The last time he saw the field, however, was 2013, when he managed only 660 yards and 4 touchdowns in 15 starts. 2013 was the only season of Rice’s career in which he failed to average at least 4 yards per carry.
His statistics declined a good bit in 2013, but he’s only 28 and could still have some gas in the tank. His on-field skills aren’t what has kept him off of an NFL roster though, but his off-field conduct.
He was released from the Baltimore Ravens on September 8, 2014 following the release of a video that showed Rice striking his finance Janay Palmer in an elevator, and knocking her out. Rice never faced any criminal charges, after agreeing to attend counseling sessions, and married Palmer only six weeks after the incident, but has still been unable to find work in the NFL.
Now, teams that are looking for help at running back may be considering snagging Rice and trying to get some production out of him. After Arian Foster’s injury it seems understandable that the Houston Texans may be considering signing Ray Rice, but Texans owner Bob McNair isn’t too sure (via ESPN’s Tania Ganguli):
Nov 5, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Suspended NFL running back Ray Rice arrives with his wife, Janay Rice for his appeal hearing on his indefinite suspension from the NFL. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY
"“I think I’d want to talk with our players, and I don’t know that that’s something that they would like,” McNair said, regarding signing Ray Rice. “We want people that fit in our locker room. As I said, it’s all about teamwork. And look, we’ve got four good running backs. I don’t know that he’s as good as any of the four we’ve got. I don’t see anybody else trying to sign him, so I think that’s a pretty good indication of where he stands.”"
McNair seems to have faith in the current Houston running back stable, composed of Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, rookie Kenny Hilliard, and offseason pickup Chris Polk. He also has historically cared about his team’s image, and believes that NFL players should be held to a higher standard. He discussed this in an interview with CNBC last September, a week after Rice was released by the Ravens:
"“Our players are role models, there’s no question about it,” said McNair, “Whether they want to be or not. They are. So they’re in the spotlight. So if they do something that’s wrong, that’s in the spotlight too. Whereas the normal incidence is not highlighted in that fashion. So we just have to recognize that we’re being held to a higher standard and we need to act to a higher standard.”"
McNair, who mentioned to USA Today Sports in 2014 that he had some exposure to domestic-violence related incidents because of family history, has run a fairly tight ship in Houston. Since 2010, only one Houston Texan has been arrested (according to the database for NFL arrests created by the San Diego Tribune). That is the fewest of any team in the NFL, and roughly 0.3% of the league’s 289 total arrests since 2010.
Altogether, eleven Houston Texans have been arrested, most of those coming from 2003-2009, but that is only 1.4% of the 802 arrests across the NFL since 2000 when the San Diego Tribune started keeping records. Of those eleven players, all were either cleared of charges or cut from the team, except for two players who faced legal action after being arrested for driving under the influence. Clearly Texans owner Bob McNair means it when he says players should be held to a higher standard.
That brings us back to Ray Rice, and why McNair thinks it unlikely that he will end up on Houston’s roster. The team is built on character, and this is stressed both publicly and in the locker room. After such a public display of a lack of self-control and respect for another, it would be difficult for Rice to leave that image behind him. Wherever he goes, he will carry the memory of that incident.
Other teams such as the Cleveland Browns have expressed some interest in Ray Rice, and Cleveland’s owner has even said he’d like to see Rice get another chance. It seems likely that at some point Ray Rice will find himself on an NFL roster again, especially once the season gets underway and teams realize they don’t have the talent they need in the backfield.
For Houston’s part, it may be best for the team if they Ray Rice be, at least for now. They’ve already got a competitive quarterback battle and one of the league’s most media-drawing players in defensive end J.J. Watt, and they don’t need any other storylines as the 2015 season nears. Let’s wait and see what Blue, Polk, Grimes, and Hilliard can do before panicking and signing anyone else.