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Who Backs Up Ray Rice in 2012?

Former Raven Le'Ron McClain (44) could return as Ray Rice's backup in 2012

Of course the Ravens first priority is making sure that Ray Rice stays in the fold and even if they don’t re-sign him to an extension most feel confident that the team will franchise Rice and then attempt to work out a deal. Let’s not forget that Baltimore has used this tactic before and most recently with Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata.

But with the sudden retirement of Ricky Williams just one of the many questions facing the Ravens this off-season is who backs up Rice at Running Back.

The Ravens could turn to two in-house options in second year players Anthony Allen or Damien Berry. However the Ravens have shown in the past that they like more accomplished runners like Willis McGahee.

So who’s out there in the Free Agent market? There are a few possibilties that could fit well here.

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals
Unrestricted (8th Season); 29; 5-11; 227
2011 Season: 273 carries, 1,067 yards, 6 touchdowns. 15 receptions, 82 yards, 0 touchdowns

We know plenty about Benson, who has spent the last three season with division rival Bengals as their primary back. He’s a power runner and would make a fine compliment to Rice’s shifty style. He’d also be a good option on short yardage and goal line situations too. At age thirty he may be looking to land his last big payday though. I’ll be interested to see where the market places Benson’s services.

Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders
Unrestricted (5th Season); 27-years-old, 6-foot-1, 245 pounds
2011 Season: 256 carries, 977 yards, 7 touchdowns. 37 receptions, 418 yards, 1 touchdown

Bush made the most of his opportunity in Oakland with Darren McFadden’s injuries and showed NFL teams that he can carry the load. Would he be willing to accept a back-up role here? Seems unlikely.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots
Unrestricted (5th season); 26; 5-11; 215
2011 Season: 161 carries, 667 yards, 11 touchdowns. 9 receptions, 159 yards, 0 touchdowns

The law firm could be a nice addition to the Ravens backfield. He’s a power runner with a nose for the goal. Since he’s spent his whole career in New England, he’s used to the AFC and not being the whole focus in an offense.

Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
Unrestricted (5th Season); 26; 6-2; 250
2011 Season: 161 carries, 587 yards, 3 touchdowns. 22 catches, 130 yards, 0 touchdowns

The Madden curse hit Hills last season as he struggled to stay on the field due to injury. His relationship with the Browns was strained greatly due to several comments he made. Would they be willing to give him a long-term deal or could the Ravens scoop him up to be the Thunder to Ray Rice’s Lightning?

Le’Ron McClain, Kansas City Chiefs
Unrestricted (6th Season); 27; 6-0; 260
2011 Season: 15 carries, 51 yards, 1 touchdown. 4 receptions, 26 yards, 0 touchdowns

The former Raven is back on the market after a disappointing one-year stint in Kansas City. Some have called for McClain to return due to his familiarity with the team and that he may be able to come cheaply. He may have to shed some weight though to be a full-time halfback. It is intriguing to imagine a goal line package of McClain, and Vonta Leach ckearing a lane for Rice.

Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions
Unrestricted (5th Season); 25; 6-1, 217
2011 Season: 72 carries, 356 yards, 4 touchdowns. 1 reception, 3 yards, 0 touchdowns

Injuries have kept Smith from truly breaking out during his first four seasons. He’s missed twenty games over just the past two years. I wonder if he’d be able to stay healthy enough to even be considered.

Mike Tolbert, San Diego Chargers
Unrestricted (5th season); 26; 5-9, 243
2011 Season: 121 carries, 490 yards, 8 touchdowns. 54 receptions, 433 yards, 2 touchdowns

The power back has said that he’d like to stay in San Diego however he’s also looking for the best deal. He was used as a third-down back to compliment Ryan Mathews which is exactly what the Ravens would need. I’m concerned though at what Tolbert would be asking for in terms of contract.

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