NFL commissioner Roger Goodell left the door open for Rice to return to the league after being indefinitely suspended following the release of a video of him beating his then-fiancee unconscious in a casino elevator.
The running back was cut from the Baltimore Ravens on Monday and the league issued its suspension shortly after, but Goodell said Tuesday night that he won't rule out a return so long as Rice has "paid the price."
If history is any indication, that price will be paid after one season.
Jason Maloni, the head of sports and entertainment at crisis management firm Levick, told ABC News that other football players have shown that career rehabilitation is possible. Two examples that he cited were Michael Vick, who was sent to prison for his dog fighting arrest, and Dante Stallworth, who was suspended after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter charges. Both returned to the NFL eventually.
Steeler's quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting women in 2008 and 2010, but was never charged in either case. Following the 2010 allegations, he was suspended for four games.
Running back Larry Johnson was arrested three times for three different assaults on women between 2003 and 2008. In 2003, Johnson was charged with aggravated assault and misdemeanor battery after allegedly brandishing a gun during an argument with a former girlfriend. The charges were dropped after he completed a domestic violence diversion program. In 2008, he was charged in one incident of pushing a woman in a club and in a separate incident that year he allegedly spit his drink at a woman and threatened her boyfriend. He pleaded guilty to both in exchange for two years probation.
During much of that time Johnson continued to play in the NFL while being traded among teams. He no longer plays professionally after having been dropped by the Miami Dolphins in 2011.
Maloni expects Rice to be allowed back in the NFL too.
"I have no doubt about it, at some point he would return because the NFL is known for being heavy handed in their punishment, but also being forgiving once somebody's paid their debt to society and rehabilitated themselves or undergone some counseling," Maloni said. "I think he'll be welcomed back sometime before next year's draft and after the Super Bowl. He's sitting out one season, I would imagine."
Ted Spiker, a sports media professor at the University of Florida, said that there is a good chance that Rice could return to the NFL but stipulated that it depends a great deal on how he behaves in the meantime.
"I think the public can be very forgiving of a lot of things, but I think the public demands that there is some sort of transparency," Spiker told ABC News. "I think when an athlete or somebody in the public spotlight is able to do those things, time does allow reentry."
Legally, Rice is on his way to recovery. Following the Feb. 15 incident where surveillance footage caught him punching his then-finacee, knocking her unconscious and dragging her out of the elevator, Rice entered a pre-trial intervention program on May 1 and has been placed on probation for one year. The couple has since gotten married and he has undergone counseling as a part of those program conditions. Rice has already spoken publicly about his counseling sessions. If he makes it through the year without breaking the conditions of his probation, the charges will be dismissed administratively and he will not have to appear in court again.
Rice could pay a different price, however.
Maloni, whose colleague represented Vick in the past, said that while Vick may be back on the field, the quarterback isn't back to his pre-scandal peak.
"Michael Vick never returned to the lofty levels that he was in the early 2000s," Maloni said. "He is able to earn a living, but he is not at the level that he was when he was representing the Falcons."
Rice has been dropped as an endorser by several companies, including Nike and VertiMax, and Spiker thinks that he will have a difficult time winning them back.
"Endorsement deals are going to be really, really tough," Spiker said. "I can't imagine the corporate meeting that somebody says 'Yes, let's get Ray Rice, he's the best spokesperson for our product.' I'm not sure that the business world is going to be able to make that decision."
While other troubled athletes were able to woo back their endorsers -- like Tiger Woods did with Nike -- the surveillance footage may play a more permanent role in blocking such ties from being reformed.
"I think this video made it a much more emotional and much tougher role for him if he does plan to make a comeback," Spiker said. "It's one thing if we don't know the evidence or were speculating or there's a gray area. It's another thing when the world has seen the evidence."