Finding a team willing to take on the public relations hit of signing Ray Rice will be difficult. But anyone saying it is impossible is ignoring other famous cases of players returning after controversial incidents. Leonard Little, a defensive lineman, played 12 seasons in the N.F.L. after killing a 47-year-old mother in a drunken driving accident. Donte Stallworth, a wide receiver, played three seasons after pleading guilty to manslaughter for killing a pedestrian in a hit-and-run accident that happened after he had been drinking. And Michael Vick, the backup quarterback for the Jets, has played six seasons since serving a federal sentence in connection with a dogfighting ring that he participated in.
While no teams have openly showed interest in Rice, there are some teams that may be able to use Rice if he could prove in a tryout that he was in shape.
Arizona: Tied for the best record in the N.F.L., the Cardinals lost the heart of their offense when Carson Palmer had a season-ending knee surgery. The team’s defense is playoff quality, but they cannot hold off rapidly-encroaching Seattle without more help on offense where their running backs are averaging an N.F.L.-low 3.1 yards a carry. If Rice could regain his 2012 form, he and Andre Ellington could be enough to get the team its first division title since 2009.
New England: The Patriots have shown little commitment to the team’s various running backs this season with LeGarrette Blount leading the team in rushing in Week 12 just a few days after joining the team while Jonas Gray, who rushed for 201 yards in Week 11, did not play a single snap. Coach Bill Belichick is not afraid of controversy, and has a tendency to keep players in line, so if he thought Rice could benefit the team, there would be little stopping him from giving it a try.
Detroit: Reggie Bush has only managed to play in seven games, and Joique Bell has hardly inspired in his place, so the Lions could certainly use a back like Rice to help provide balance to an offense that is 8th in the N.F.L. in passing but 30th in rushing.
Oakland: Al Davis was known for taking on the most difficult players and finding a use for them regardless of what anyone thought. If his son Mark, the team’s current owner, wants to emulate his father, signing a player like Rice, who may add a little life to a running game that has produced an N.F.L.-low 809 yards, would certainly qualify. Considering the team has won just one of its last 17 games, Raiders fans may be willing to look past Rice’s issues and focus on his ability.
Giants: The return of Rashad Jennings was supposed to breathe life into the Giants’ running game, but it has not happened yet, with New York rushing 53 times for 154 yards (2.91 yards a carry) over the last two weeks. Rice played his college years at nearby Rutgers and even the 2013 version of Rice, which was a far cry from his earlier days in Baltimore, would be an improvement for the Giants.