The drive from Baltimore to his hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y., typically takes three hours, but on this night, Ray Rice felt like he was in his car for all of 45 minutes.
As he headed north on I-95, there were phone calls to return, plans to make and so many life-altering thoughts to ponder. Above all, there was the realization that the five-year, $40 million contract that he just signed would set him and his family up for life and get him closer to one of his professional goals: spending his entire career as a Baltimore Raven.
"The first person I went to see was my mom. She knows what we've all been through in our life," said Rice who acknowledged that the first big purchase he made after his new deal, which included $24 million in guaranteed money, was a home for his mother, Janet. "As long as I know where I'm going to be for the next five years, as long as I take care of my business, I feel good.
"Hopefully, I want to retire a Raven. That's what it boils down to. You get your second contract, you think about long term. That would be nine years of my life that I've been in Baltimore so needless to say, Baltimore has become home for me. My license says Baltimore. I'm no longer a New Yorker. I just visit there now."
In his first public comments since getting his new deal July 16 just minutes before the deadline to sign designated franchise players, Rice talked about his motivation to defy the shrinking shelf-life of an NFL running back and the importance of the Ravens putting the AFC championship loss to the New England Patriots behind them, and expressed confidence that quarterback Joe Flacco will be next to get a lucrative contract extension.
Flacco, who was taken in the first round of the 2008 draft with Rice being selected by the Ravens in the second round, enters the final season of his rookie deal.
"One thing I know about Joe — and me and Joe came in together — is he's going to be a Raven for a long time. He's already said that," said Rice, 25. "Just putting all that aside, Joe Flacco played a heck of a season last year, Joe Flacco has been a great quarterback for us. I know at the end of the day, it's going to get taken care of … Quite frankly, they can take care of him now or they can take care of him later, and they do have the option of the franchise tag which gives them more time. When you bridge the gap, he's going to get taken care of. It just might not happen when he wants it do but I'm sure it's going to get done."
A deal with Flacco would secure the Ravens' top two offensive building blocks going forward. Rice, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, led the NFL last season with 2,068 yards from scrimmage, was second in the league with 1,364 rushing yards and set a franchise record with 15 touchdowns.
"Anybody who knows Ray knows that he is just one of those special kids that comes to work and does the right things, and for this organization to go ahead and do that in the early stages of his career, I think that's awesome," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, one of Rice's closest friends on the team. "Me and Ray talked about it, not to get frustrated, not to worry about other people signing deals or any of that. Just do what you need to do and focus what you need to focus on. And have fun in the game. That contract side of it getting done is a big relief for Ray, though."
If Rice hadn't gotten a new deal by July 16, he would have been in line to play the season under the $7.7 million franchise tag. But that wasn't what worried him most as the deadline drew near, and he fought to keep his emotions out of the negotiations.
"I already knew that I put myself in a position. Even with $7.7, I was never denying the franchise tag. You take $7.7 wherever you want to cut it, still, my family is going to be fine," Rice said. "When I signed, it was more like relief. 'OK, that's over with, the business side is done.' Playing under the franchise tag, for me mentally, would have said, 'I wouldn't have known if I would be a Raven next year.' That's where it scares you. It doesn't scare you in terms of financial stability because you are going to get that. But it scares you in terms of where am I going to be next year. That feeling, I don't have to worry about."
Now, Rice can focus on helping the Ravens avenge last year's AFC championship loss to the New England Patriots and taking the final step to the Super Bowl. Rice, who has been to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, says that will be on everybody's minds when the Ravens have their first full-team practice of training camp Thursday.
"When you look at the Ravens, we've been close every year. I think it's time for us to get over that hump and we have the pieces to do it," Rice said. "You look at our schedule, we have our work cut out for us, we really do. One thing I know about our team is when there's a challenge, we accept it. We go ahead and we accept the challenge … I don't want to say Super Bowl or bust because that's like the motto every year. But I would love to feel that confetti drop as big Ray [Lewis] would say."