It seems unlikely that a long-term contract can be negotiated, so Pace will likely be franchised for the second straight year. This time, the figure is $6.88 million, and the only question will be whether he misses virtually all of training camp again.
Numerous teams have expressed an interest in Pace over the past two years, but at the cost of two first-round draft picks as compensation for the team which signs him, has been a deterrent. As was the case following the 2002 season, representatives for Pace has requested the Rams front office not place the ‘franchise tag' on him.
League and team insiders believe Pace really enjoys playing in St. Louis for Mike Martz and is willing to remain in St. Louis if the Rams would place a record-setting contract in front of him. Talk of a 20-million signing bonus request coming from the Pace camp are exaggerated, but a five-year deal at eight-plus million dollars a season, with a 15-million dollar signing bonus is a contract base his representatives has not denied when speaking with The Insiders Network.
Rumors have surfaced that Pace has not fully recovered from a previous knee injury, which could slowdown this dominant offensive left tackle. Reviewing his play in the 2003 season and speaking to league player personnel evaluators place Pace in an elite category of offensive tackles, with Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden and Seattle's Walter Jones. Tremendous run-blocker, with very good strength and technique in the pass blocking facet of the game, Pace has been dominating at the point of attack and has proven his game has not slipped.
"Orlando Pace is as good as any left tackle in the game today. This is a player you plug into your lineup for the next five-to-seven years, just knowing the left side of the line is anchored and the quarterback will not have to worry about his backside," one player personnel director said.
The Pro Bowl left tackle has played the last two seasons under one-year tenders while being the team's franchise player. He and the team have been far apart on talks about a long-term contract extension.
The story for Jones compares to the situation described above about Orlando Pace. Like Pace, Walter Jones seeks a record breaking deal, as he is indeed one of the very best in the game at the offensive left tackle position. Solid run-blocker, solid pass-protector, Jones would easily leave Seattle, if the opportunity presented itself. Feeling like the team has prohibited his right to choice, Jones again seeks the ability to change teams this off-season. The ultimate question again this off-season will be, "Will the Seahawks again place the franchise tag on Jones?"
Tait could be a very difficult sign for the Chiefs. Though there is no doubt that Tait is the premiere right tackle available in free agency this year, some lingering effects of his initial contract squabble remain. Though Ethan Locke is out of the picture, the Chiefs want Tait to accept a ‘Home Town Deal' so the Chiefs can save much needed cap space to sign potential free agents on defense. Tait has made it very clear that he wants to stay in Kansas City and he told that to Chiefs President Carl Peterson after the season ended. But that does not mean the two sides can reach a deal. As a friend of the Tait family has said, if a contract is done it will go down to the wire. Tait does not expect to be franchised by the Chiefs.
The left tackle will command a signing bonus in range of $10 million and annual salary upwards of $6 million a year, which the Packers will try to come up with.
Clifton returned from a devastating pelvic injury to start all 16 games, playing every snap in 2003 and helping this year's offensive line become the best in recent memory.
Clifton is only 27 and while he is likely to command big dollars on the open market the cap-wary Pack will try to find a way to get it done. He has said he would like to remain a Green Bay Packer, but like all savvy free agents, he's keeping his options wide open.
"I feel confident that hopefully I can be back here," said Clifton. "But again, it is a business. Things happen. It's really just sinking in. We'll start the negotiation process and see how it goes."
The Insiders contributed to this report.