In Jackson talks, silence is golden ...
Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
MEQUON, Wis. — Outside the gates of Concordia University, there may be fear and loathing as the Steven Jackson holdout reached Day 4, but inside the inner sanctum of the Rams' summer training compound, there is a surprising calm among the players and coaches.
"As long as he's here for Game 1, it's cool," said center Richie Incognito, whose words seem to echo the sentiment of all the players.
Things are so quiet on the Jackson front that it's downright spooky. No one is agitated. No one is sweating. No one is freaking out. If this keeps up, this could go down as the most polite and least contentious holdout in Rams history. The only thing that has topped the surprisingly cordial manner of team president Jay Zygmunt has been the unexpected silence coming from the star running back and his high-profile agent, Eugene Parker.
Can the congregation say "Amen"?
Silence really is a beautiful thing. And intelligent, too. Rams management is trying to keep things low-key because it makes no sense to publicly or privately trash the most visible face of the franchise. Maybe you haven't noticed all those billboards and print advertisements that feature a menacing visage of No. 39 exploding off the page. Through its new aggressive "Bring It!" marketing campaign, the organization has made it clear how much Jackson matters. Like Torry Holt said a few days ago, "Getting 39 in here … it's going to be big. Steven is the guy. He's our horse."
It also shows that Jackson understands a bit about market value, too. His outspokenness in the past has put him in some occasional hot water with the public (even if what he was saying was the blunt, honest truth). But talking about ticket sales and lousy music in the Dome is one thing that can be explained or defended.
However, a millionaire griping about his salary never plays well in the public light, no matter how justified he may be about deserving a raise. So Jackson's silence may prove to be the smartest move he makes during this holdout. At the very least, he or Parker could say something that alienates management, and escalates the negotiations from cordial to hostile. Far worse, he could say something that creates an embarrassing headline and creates the worst impression of all. He can come off like he's totally out of touch with the real world.
"I can't go out and play this year making $445,000. Come on, man." — Devin Hester
Five days ago, that was a bold-faced quote on the front sports page of the Chicago Tribune under the screaming banner headline: "Hester: I deserve more." It just never sounds good to be telling the sporting public of the hardships of carving out a meager existence on nearly half a million bucks a year.
Jackson's publicist told the Post-Dispatch on Monday that the player and agent won't be talking any time soon. Good. It might be nice to hear him say, "The reason I'm trying to get this deal done is because I want to be a Ram for the rest of my career," but I think most intelligent people can figure that one out anyway. If he's trying to get a new deal, that must mean he doesn't want to explore free agency.
That should be obvious, and so should this: It's going to get done. You know it. I know it. And if everyone is smart, it will get done a long time before contract Armageddon strikes. So the silence by both sides allows a bit of wiggle room at the negotiating table. It allows the possibility of the Rams quietly backing away from their public hard line of not negotiating with holdouts. You do have to wonder what the organization stands to gain in the long term by playing polite in public but hardball in private. You have to wonder what good it does to alienate a superstar who has made it clear by asking for a new contract that he wants to be a Ram for the long term.
You have to wonder why in the face of last year's 3-13 madness, management would do anything willingly that would pile on additional chaos to an otherwise upbeat offseason. Why not get the deal done now, lock him up for four years and be done with it?
Why not do that when you know the only other alternative is the dreaded "franchise tag gambit" that is sure to reproduce a series of more training camp disputes similar to the Orlando Pace situation of years past?
There's a good reason why the players and coaches aren't freaking out over Jackson's early absence. They also know the truth about Jackson the teammate. Unlike the idiots on the Internet with no access who keep calling him a "locker room cancer," the players who actually live in the locker room know Jackson's no Manny Ramirez. He's not staging some petulant snit during the heat of a pennant race like the goofy but talented Boston Red Sox slugger. The Rams don't play a football game that counts for nearly six weeks, and that means there's plenty of time to get this deal done.
The players say they already know Jackson's value to the team. They just hope management doesn't take too long trying to figure out what that value i
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