RB Jackson misses opening day of training camp; contract talks stall
MEQUON, Wis. -- St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, entering the final year of his contract, was a no-show for the opening day of training camp on Friday and will be fined as an unexcused absence.
Jackson's agent, Eugene Parker, turned down an offer Friday afternoon that the team said would have put Jackson in the top tier at his position in terms of pay.
Coach Scott Linehan had anticipated a holdout Thursday when Jackson informed him he would not be on the team charter flight from St. Louis, although he didn't relay those fears until after the first practice.
"When he said he wasn't going to make the trip, let's be honest, I knew something was going on," Linehan said. "I know we've had a lot of dialogue with his representative and I know it's been fairly positive from what I've been told."
Both Zygmunt and Linehan have said getting a contract extension for Jackson was a priority. Zygmunt said the team approached Jackson about a longterm deal shortly after last season, but talks were delayed when the running back switched agents last month.
Zygmunt said the team has made several contract offers, and declined to say how far apart the parties remained. Parker told him after turning down the offer that Jackson would not be in camp Friday, but Zygmunt was unclear how much longer the holdout would last without a deal.
Jackson became a holdout after missing the initial team meeting and the Rams held their first practice without him Friday afternoon at Concordia University, their new training site after three years of staying home in St. Louis.
Jackson is in the final season of a five-year contract he signed after the Rams drafted him in the first round in 2004. He has had three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons after totaling 1,002 last year despite injuries that sidelined him for four games.
Quarterback Marc Bulger staged a brief holdout last year while negotiating a new deal. He was a no-show for a mandatory team meeting but was on the field for the first day of training camp after getting a six-year, $65 million contract.
The Rams also were negotiating with Donnie Avery, a second-round pick in this year's draft and the lone unsigned pick. Avery was the first wide receiver taken in the draft after a run on offensive linemen, which likely factors into the impasse.
"All I can say is we offered him more money than the pick behind him in this year's second round, a little less money than the guy ahead of him and more money than the same slot a year ago," Zygmunt said. "I don't know what to tell you."
Linehan addressed the one-year suspension of defensive end Claude Wroten on Thursday for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, saying the third-year player might have had trouble making the team. The Rams used the second pick of the draft on end Chris Long.
"We really thought Claude was going to be in a battle to make this team going into camp," Linehan said. "What the suspension does is it eliminates him from the mix."
OT Orlando Pace participated in most of the drills after entering training camp as an early question mark following his second straight season-ending injury. He injured his shoulder in the 2007 opener. ... Rookie wide receiver Keenan Burton, a fourth-round pick, thrived in Avery's absence with several nice catches. "It's one of the best motivators in sports," Linehan said. ... The Rams will alternate single workouts with two-a-days for the forseeable future.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press