The Ravens have known for a while that they'd likely be without Ray Rice at the start of the 2014 season. Now, they know exactly how long their top running back will be sidelined.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday handed downed a two-game suspension without pay to Rice for violating the league's personal conduct policy. He also docked Rice an additional game check, his total loss of wages adding up to just over $700,000.
Rice has the right to appeal the suspension, but he is not planning to do so. That means the three-time Pro Bowl selection will be sidelined for divisional games against the Cincinnati Bengals (Sept. 7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (Sept. 11).
He will be allowed to participate in training camp and in the Ravens' preseason games before the suspension takes hold on Aug.30. He can apply for reinstatement on Sept. 12.
"It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that's my fault. As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, 1/8wife3/8 Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents," Rice said in a statement released by the team. "I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night. The counseling has helped tremendously."
The news comes more than five weeks after Goodell met with Rice and his wife, Janay, on June 16 at the league's New York City headquarters and questioned them about their Feb. 15 physical altercation in an elevator at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino.
Rice, 27, was accused of striking his then-fiancee unconscious and ultimately was charged with felony aggravated assault. He was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail time and could lead to the charge being eliminated from his record.
In a letter informing Rice of the suspension, Goodell wrote: "As you acknowledged during our meeting, your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league polices and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL. The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.
"You will be expected to continue to take advantage of the counseling and other professional services you identified during our meeting. As you noted, this additional assistance has been of significant benefit to you and your wife, and it should remain a part of your practice as appropriate.
"I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career. I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations."
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement that the organization believes Goodell's decision was fair.
"We appreciate the thorough process the league office used to evaluate the incident with Ray Rice. The time the commissioner spent with Ray and Janay is typical of the extra steps the NFL takes when making decisions regarding discipline issues. While not having Ray for the first two games is significant to our team, we respect the league's decision and believe it is fair.
"We also respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect. We believe that he will not let that one night define who he is, and he is determined to make sure something like this never happens again."
The NFL punishment was viewed as one of the final hurdles to Rice putting the legal matter behind him, and for the Ravens, who publicly supported the embattled player but also prepared for his multi-week absence, in moving on from the incident.
"It's not a big deal. It's just part of the process," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh after the conclusion of the team's first full-squad workout of training camp. "We said from the beginning that the circumstances would determine the consequences. There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He's a heck of a guy. He's done everything right since. He makes a mistake. He's going to have to pay a consequence.
"It's good for kids to understand that it works that way. That's how it works, that's how it should be. We'll move forward and the next guy will have to step up and Ray will be back when the time comes."
Bernard Pierce, a backup for two seasons who is expected to be ready for training camp after having offseason shoulder surgery, should temporarily take over the starting role, assuming he is healthy enough to handle it. The Ravens also signed veteran free agent Justin Forsett and selected Coastal Carolina running back Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
"I think we have a lot of depth at running back," Harbaugh said. "We'll see how it plays out. I like our guys and we'll so how they do."
Still, Rice's absence will provide a significant challenge for an offense that is hoping to feature a resurgent ground game following a season in which the Ravens set a franchise-low in rushing yards. Rice has started all but four games since 2009 and missed just one contest – Week 3 last season cause of a hip flexor injury – since his rookie year in 2008.
Though he's coming off the most disappointing season of his career, Rice is the Ravens' all-time leader in yards from scrimmage (9,214) and is second in franchise history to Jamal Lewis in rushing yards (7,801) and rushing touchdowns (37).
There were some in NFL circles who speculated that Rice could be facing a far lengthier suspension from Goodell, who undoubtedly reviewed the ugly video -- published by TMZ -- of the Raven dragging his seemingly-unconscious then-fiancee out of the casino elevator.
However, it probably helped the running back's cause that he was a first-time offender and he previously had a strong off-the-field reputation, built on his multiple community efforts. Rice and his wife also have undergone counseling and say that their relationship has grown from the incident.
"You knew something was going to happen, rightfully so," Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "It's a lot of responsibility to be in this position, and Ray understands that better than anybody else. People are going to try to view him differently, but I know how Ray is as a person, and I know how Janay is, and they're working to improve on everything.
"I'll be glad when those two games are up, not only so we can have him back, which is the least of my worries, but you know, to kind of close the final chapter for him."
In his statement, Rice said, "My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let down because of this incident. I am a role model and I take that responsibility seriously. My actions going forward will show that."
Over the past three years, only four NFL players have gotten suspensions by Goodell that exceeded four games and all were considered repeat offenders.
Most of the players involved in domestic violence incidents, including former Ravens' defensive backs Cary Williams and Fabian Washington, were given suspensions ranging from one to three games. Rice's case, however, was a higher-profile incident and also included video evidence.
Rice was never convicted of a crime though that is not required to get disciplined for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy; players can be disciplined even if they aren't arrested. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was initially given a six-game suspension in 2010 after he was accused a second time of sexual assault. Roethlisberger ultimately had to serve a four-game ban.
Rice has not spoken publicly since his much-maligned apology at the team facility on May 23.
"Ray Rice is a great guy. I've known him for six, seven years now and I know he knows that he made a mistake and he's going to work through it," Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "All I can do is support him and be his teammate."
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