Rams figure to negotiate buyout of Martz's contract

Updated: January 1, 2006, 2:29 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Time to face the music
• Mike Tice was fired less than an hour after the Vikings' 34-10 win over the Bears in Sunday's regular season finale. The team announced that owner Zygi Wilf would not renew Tice's contract. Tice had already addressed the media before the move was made public.
• St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz, away from the job since early October as he received treatment for a bacterial infection of a heart valve, had his contract terminated Monday. Still to be determined is whether Martz's termination will take the form of a contract settlement or an outright firing, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
• Texans coach Dom Capers will be fired on Monday, league and team sources told Mortensen. Capers is the only coach the expansion Texans have had during their four-year existence. Houston was 17-45 record under Capers, the 45th loss being a 20-17 overtime defeat in San Francisco that guaranteed the Texans the top pick in the 2006 draft.
• Dick Vermeil went out with a win Sunday, retiring as coach of the Chiefs following a 37-3 dismantling of the Bengals. Kansas City became only the fourth team to go 10-6 and miss the postseason since the NFL expanded the field to 12 teams after the 1990 season. The Steelers' win over the Lions preventing the Chiefs from qualifying.
• The Raiders fired Norv Turner Tuesday following consecutive losing seasons. The 53-year-old Turner, who had a year remaining on his contract worth about $1.75 million, had known his job was in jeopardy for the last two months after struggling to get the most out of a stacked offense. The Raiders went 4-12 -- one fewer win than they had in Turner's first season a year ago -- losing their final six games and eight of nine.
•  Coach Mike Sherman is uncertain of his future after the Packers finished an injury-riddled season at 4-12 Sunday. Packers GM Ted Thompson gave Sherman a two-year contract extension in August. But as injuries and losses have mounted this season, Thompson has sidestepped questions about Sherman's status.

St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz, away from the job since early October as he received treatment for a bacterial infection of a heart valve, has been cleared by doctors to return to coaching on Jan. 1.

But no one should expect that Martz will be back on the sideline for the team's New Year's Day season finale against the Dallas Cowboys -- or, for that matter, that he will ever coach the Rams again.

Dr. Victoria Fraser of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis apprised Rams officials this week that Martz is medically cleared to return to his job in two weeks. And team president John Shaw also confirmed to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Martz's agent, Bob LaMonte, phoned him this week to tell him the veteran coach was permitted back on the job on Jan. 1.

On the surface, the medical clearance would technically indicate that Martz could resume the duties he left following an Oct. 9 game against the Seattle Seahawks. From a practical standpoint, however, the news that Martz has all but recovered following more than two months of treatment for a condition known as endocarditis actually figures to hasten his exit from the organization.

Shaw reiterated several times in the past two months that he would not address Martz's future until the coach's medical status was resolved. With that hurdle out of the way, it is expected that the Rams and Martz's representatives will commence negotiations aimed at settling the head coach's contract.

Martz, 54, is under contract through the 2006 season with a salary of $3.25 million. The conventional wisdom is that the Rams will attempt to settle for less than that, essentially ending Martz's six-year tenure as head coach. An expeditious resolution of the contract would permit Martz -- who led the Rams to four playoff berths, two division titles and a Super Bowl XXXVI appearance in his first five seasons as head coach -- to pursue a new position from among the several anticipated openings in the league.

Sources close to both parties have told ESPN.com several times in recent weeks that a negotiated settlement would be the best approach for Martz and the team.

Through the October loss to Seattle, Martz compiled a record of 56-36, including a 2-3 mark this season. The Rams are 3-5 under interim coach Joe Vitt.

When he was originally stricken with endocarditis, Martz felt he would miss only a few weeks. But he then announced on Oct. 24 that, because he needed time to recuperate, he would sit out the balance of the season and return in 2006. Late last month, however, Martz angered Rams officials by suggesting that he hoped to come back to the team for the final few weeks of the 2005 campaign.

At the time, Shaw, who seemed intent on having Martz not return, said: "After speaking to Mike and his doctor several weeks ago, we were led to believe there is no way that he could come back full-time before the end of the season. I would be surprised if he is medically cleared. I'm not going to speculate as to what we would do at that point. But we're all concerned about him getting the sufficient amount of rest he needs to fully recover from this illness."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.