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Ravens minus Rice a risky proposition in AFC North

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome remains hopeful Ray Rice and the team can agree to a long-term deal before the start of the season. That doesn't mean it will happen soon, and Newsome is prepared to enter offseason activities minus the team's Pro Bowl running back.

"Until a guy actually signs his franchise tender, he's not under contract and we're not allowed to even ask him to come to our mandatory minicamp," Newsome said Wednesday, vai the Boston Herald. "We understand those things. We've lived them through (Terrell) Suggs, through Chris (McAlister), Wally Williams even back (what) seems like decades ago. ... We've experienced that before, and we'll be prepared."

The Ravens slapped a $7.7 million franchise tag on Rice, but he hasn't stepped forward to sign it. If they can't agree to a deal by July 16, Rice would enter next season with that $7.7 million deal guaranteed, but with no protection for the future.

With Ricky Williams retiring this offseason, the cupboard is bare behind Rice. Their next leading rusher? Fullback Vonta Leach (unless you want to talk about Joe Flacco's 88 yards on the ground). Anthony Allen and Damien Berry are on the roster as untested projects.

Speaking of Flacco -- and despite his claims that he's among the best quarterbacks alive -- the Ravens were far too inconsistent (at times baffling) in games that moved away from featuring Rice.

NFL teams are reluctant to fork over long-term deals to running backs entering their second contract period, but without Rice, the Ravens are a much different team in the AFC North. After coming within a breathe of the Super Bowl last season -- that's a risky proposition.

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