Pace, Agent, & Rams Front Office At Odds

<p><b>ST. LOUIS:</b> Rams, Pace's agent at odds over request for $20 million signing bonus<br> <br> &nbsp; During the 2002 season, Rams left tackle Orlando Pace had told several people in the organization, including coach Mike Martz, that he was planning to change agents in anticipation of his contract expiring at the end of the season.

  It was widely believed Pace was considering the choice of St. Louis-based Rocky Arceneaux, who has represented several Rams players including running back Marshall Faulk.

   Privately, Rams front-office executives were hoping Pace would make the change. Arceneaux and the Rams have worked well together in the past, but without the agent doing badly by the player. Arceneaux and the Rams have negotiated two contracts for Faulk, including a renegotiation last summer that added years for Faulk and helped the team regarding the salary cap for 2002-2004.

   Arceneaux also negotiated a contract for wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim last year that paid Hakim a signing bonus in excess of $5 million as he left the Rams for the Detroit Lions.

   Conversely, the original negotiations in 1997 between the Rams and Pace's agent, Carl Poston, led to a 33-day holdout after Pace was selected with the pick in that year's draft. The essential terms of the contract never changed between the start of training camp and when Pace signed Aug. 15, although Poston made sure to accept the Rams' offer in the afternoon before a nationally televised preseason game against the Cowboys.

   Poston leaked word of the contract to Fox TV host James Brown, and during the pregame show, the Fox crew trumpeted the alleged total value of the deal and hailed Poston for his negotiating acumen.

   In reality, the numbers quickly publicized included a seventh year of the contract worth $10 million that was eventually voided, as well as unlikely to be earned incentives such as Pace being named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.

   Now, six years later, the two sides are at it again after Pace decided to stay with Poston. Two weeks ago, Pace wondered why a deal hadn't been done, insisting his goal was to stay with the Rams.

   After the Rams designated him their franchise player Feb. 10, we know why there has been no agreement. While the Rams have offered Pace a contract that includes a signing bonus in the range of those received in past contracts by quarterback Kurt Warner, wide receiver Isaac Bruce and Faulk ($11 million), Poston's proposal calls for a bonus of more than $20 million, which would be the highest ever paid in the NFL -- for any player.

   For that reason, the Rams slapped the franchise tag on Pace 10 days before the league deadline for doing so, but still giving the team and Poston time to come to a long-term agreement by March 14. The one-year tender of $5.734 million will count against the 2003 cap if Pace is not signed by the Feb. 28 start of free agency, and continue to count throughout the offseason if he is not signed by March 14.

   If he does sign, the Rams would retain a franchise designation for next year. If he doesn't, Pace can't be signed to a long-term deal until after July 15 (for the Rams to retain their tag for 2004) and negotiations for a long-term deal can't begin until after Pace signs the one-year tender.

   Poston's proposal comes after a season in which Pace missed six complete games and most of one other because of calf and hamstring injuries. He then injured his knee in the season finale against the 49ers, although surgery was not required. He did not participate in the Rams June minicamp because of an ankle injury, and was hobbled in Super Bowl XXXVI because of a knee injury suffered the week before in the NFC Championship Game.


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