Ray Rice
Fresh off his reinstatement to the NFL by an independent arbitrator, running back Ray Rice is now free to sign with any franchise. Reuters

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice became an eligible free agent after his reinstatement last week to the NFL. While it is considered unlikely that Rice will return to the field in 2014, several teams, including the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, could emerge as potential landing spots for the 27-year-old for next season.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell indefinitely suspended Rice in September after surveillance footage emerged of the knockout blow he delivered to then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator. Rice appealed the suspension, and independent arbitrator Barbara S. Jones ruled in his favor, determining that he did not mislead NFL investigators about the nature of his actions.

Free of pending legal battles and with his football career more or less intact, Rice called Monday for NFL teams to give him another shot. “They would have to be willing to, you know, look deeper into who I am and realize that me and my wife had one bad night, and I took full responsibility for it,” he said during an appearance on the “Today” show. “The only thing I can hope for and wish for is a second chance."

At least four NFL teams considered offering Rice that second chance, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. Of those potential suitors, the Colts make the most sense as a potential suitor. Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis’ most effective running back this season, was out for the season after suffering a broken leg in November. Replacement Trent Richardson has been ineffective in 2014 and has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.

Rice also enjoys a strong bond with Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who served as an assistant coach with the Ravens from 2007 to 2011, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora notes. Pagano could provide the support system that Rice will need to readjust to life in the NFL after his domestic violence incident.

The Saints also expressed interest in signing Rice, according to a Schefter source. Unlike the Colts, New Orleans already has a strong stable of running backs that includes Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson. However, head coach Sean Payton is an offensive mastermind who loves to stockpile offensive weapons.

Despite their interest, neither the Colts nor the Saints are expected to sign Rice this season, league sources told ESPN. Additional sources declined to identify the other two teams interested in Rice or whether they planned to sign him.

Another scenario would see Rice sign with a franchise ahead of the 2015 NFL season, after a full offseason to integrate with a new team and weather public anger over his return. New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick managed a similar comeback in 2009 despite missing two entire seasons after a conviction on state dog-fighting charges.

A return in 2015 would depend on whether NFL teams believe Rice could still play at a high level. He was once considered one of the league’s top running backs, amassing at least 1,100 rushing yards every season from 2009 to 2012. But Rice turns 28 in January – an age when many running backs begin to break down – and endured a high-usage rate during his time in Baltimore.

Rice’s performance in 2013 suggested that his best playing days may already be in the past. He rushed for just 3.1 yards per carry that season and recorded the league’s worst success rate for running backs with at least 200 carries, Five Thirty Eight notes.