Rams' Pace tendered one-year, $7M offer

Frustrated again in their efforts to sign standout left offensive tackle Orlando Pace to a long-term deal, the St. Louis Rams have designated him a "franchise" player for a second straight season.

Updated: February 21, 2004, 6:59 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Frustrated again in their efforts to sign standout left offensive tackle Orlando Pace to a long-term deal, the St. Louis Rams have designated him a "franchise" player for a second straight season.

"Obviously, we want to keep Orlando," said Rams coach Mike Martz on Saturday, during a break in the combine workouts. "And, for now, this seems the only way to do it."

St. Louis had until next Tuesday to exercise the "franchise" tag but, with negotiations on a long-term contract stalemated, club officials saw no reason to wait. Pace joins Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey, a four-time Pro Bowl performer Washington is attempting to trade, as the two players already labeled with the "franchise" marker.

The move essentially means that Pace, generally regarded as one of the NFL's top three left tackles, has been tendered a one-year qualifying offer at $7.021 million. He played under the "franchise" tag in 2003, when the level of compensation was $4.734 million.

Another team could still sign Pace to a contract, but the Rams could match that offer, or decline to so and accept a pair of first-round draft choices in return. Because of the level of compensation required, it is doubtful any other franchise would sign Pace, even given his excellence at one of the game's most difficult positions.

The first player chosen overall in the 1997 draft, Pace, 28, has made five appearances in the Pro Bowl.

Rams officials told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch they made a contract offer to Pace and his representatives four weeks ago. But the seven-year, $42 million proposal, which included a club-record $13 million signing bonus, was rejected.

The two sides, under league rules, can negotiate a long-term deal until March 17, and then will not be able to re-open contracts talks again until mid-July. Given the difficult negotiations the Rams have had with Pace in the past, it is unlikely the parties will be able to reach an accord in the next 3 weeks.

Pace missed all of training camp his rookie season in a contract dispute. Then he sat out again last summer while his agents attempted to land a seven-year contract worth $85 million and including a $24 million signing bonus.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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