To use his term, trainers “snatched” Sidney Rice off the Seahawks' practice field Thursday.
He was merely running light routes, using ever-improving legs. Rice tore an ACL last year during the Week 7 game in St. Louis. That makes Oct. 19, 2013 the last time Rice ran routes full-out, so forgive him if he has a hankering to get back on the field.
“You might feel good, but that doesn’t mean it’s always good to keep pushing it,” Rice told the News Tribune. “They’re keeping a real close eye on me.”
That Rice is back on the Seahawks’ practice field at all is a surprise. Seattle cut him after the season to create $7.3 million in salary cap space. Rice signed a five-year, $41 million deal to join the Seahawks in 2011. He saw an adjustment coming before eventually returning on a one-year deal worth a reported $1.4 million.
“I’ve been around this league for a long time,” Rice, who came into the NFL out of South Carolina in 2007, said. “I kind of knew what the process was going from my injury, going into the fourth year of my contract, so I knew they would try to renegotiate or cut me before the deadline, and that’s what happened.”
However, when he left the office of general manager John Schneider on Feb. 28, Rice departed with an understanding. The Seahawks wanted him back, if possible.
As his rehabilitation continued, he assessed other offers, namely one from the New York Jets. With each passing week, Rice was able to do more. He sent videos of his workouts to Seahawks director of health and player performance, Sam Ramsden. In turn, Ramsden gave Rice things to work on.
It was similar to how Rice remained in touch with the team even after he was hurt. He was often around the facility and on the sidelines during games. Rice remained in constant contact with the receiving corps. Though just 27 years old, he’s the most experienced wide receiver the Seahawks have.
“Some of those guys look up to me and they express it often,” Rice said. “They look to me for guidance. I’ve been in this system for seven years. Certain things that they might not understand, I might have a better understanding of. I was still part of the team. Any way I could help them to keep progressing and help them get to the point they got to and win the Super Bowl, I was all for it. I didn’t want to let them down in any sense.”
That leadership position was among the reasons Rice came back. Having a full understanding of NFL -- and Seattle -- economics was another.
“You look around this team, there’s so many amazing players on this team,” Rice said. “Their time is up-and-coming now; time for them to get their big payday. So, these guys took care of me when I first came in. Signed a big deal. Five year for whatever amount. I played three years, I made a lot of money, that was one of the reasons I came back here. Guys took care of me.
“I just felt comfortable with the team. You build a rapport with the guys around here in the lockerroom. Guys start to look up to you and depend on you for certain things.”
Rice’s point of view in many ways was counter to that of Golden Tate. Tate left to take more money -- and more receiving opportunities -- with the Detroit Lions, a move many in the lockerroom understood. The Seahawks made Tate a low offer for his second NFL contract. He opted for the higher one. Unlike Rice, he was yet to receive a significant (by NFL terms) payday. When asked if he was surprised Tate left, he said, “Not really.”
“It’s kind of a shaky situation when you haven’t made as much money as you think you should have made throughout the first couple years,” Rice said. “Golden’s a really good player, has a chance to be great. It’s just part of the process. He felt like he had a better opportunity in Detroit, made a little bit more money with their deal, that’s what he went with.”
It’s fair to wonder how free agent wide receivers would view coming to the Seahawks. As Rice points out, joining the team makes you “a Super Bowl contender off the top.” But, there are also the limitations of the system to consider. Most receivers are like shooters in basketball, without their touches, they can get grumpy.
“It depends on what they’re looking for,” Rice said. “At this point in my career, I’m looking to win more Super Bowls.”
To get that opportunity again, Rice is at the first phase of voluntary workouts which consists of strength and conditioning and rehabilitation only. That lasts two weeks and began Monday.
Rice is hoping to be ready for limited participation in mini-camp (likely mid-June) and to be a full participant in training camp (Camp opened July 25 last season). He also says he has quite a few years left in the league. He can become an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
“I’m busting my ass now to get back out there on the field,” Rice said. “Even now, I’m doing the agilities with the guys, lifting and whatnot. But, you want to be in. Everything else will take care of itself.”