NFL Nation: NFLN survey/franchise player

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
Peyton Manning beat out the two quarterbacks with whom he will always be linked to finish first in an ESPN NFL Nation poll on the best player with which to start a franchise.

Manning received 62 votes from the more than 320 NFL players who were polled anonymously. Andrew Luck, whom the Colts traded No. 1 overall after releasing Manning in 2012, finished second with 56 votes while the Patriots’ Tom Brady came in third with 41 votes.

Quarterbacks, not surprisingly, dominated the voting for this category.

In addition to the three aforementioned signal callers, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (40) and New Orleans’ Drew Brees (11) received double digits in votes.

What is surprising is that voters did not go younger at quarterback with the exception of Luck. Manning is one of the all-time greats as his position but he turns 38 in March and he could decide to go out on top if Denver wins the Super Bowl this season. Brady, meanwhile, is 36 though he too is still playing at a high level.

The only other players to receive double-digits in votes were Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (37) and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (20).

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and strong safety Troy Polamalu all received one vote.

I would have definitely gone with a quarterback had I voted in this, and my choice probably would have been between Luck and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick. I would have also considered Johnny Manziel, who will be taken somewhere in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.

Yep, count me among those who think Johnny Football is going to be a star in the NFL.

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