Pace finally with Rams, but is he ready to commit?
By Jeff Gordon
Online Sports Columnist
Monday, Sep. 06 2004

Rams coach Mike Martz remained on the high road Monday after wayward tackle
Orlando Pace finally rejoined his team.

Reporters wondered about lingering hard feelings from Pace's protracted
holdout, the third of his career in St. Louis.

"It's never remembered," Martz said. "That's his deal and I don't have anything
to do with that. That's another world that I don't participate in."

Yeah, well, fans want to participate in that world. So does the media.

And Pace's teammates might have some thoughts on the latest holdout, too,
should his camp-long absence affect the caliber of his play.

There is only one way that this issue goes away: If Pace plays at his
accustomed all-pro level from Week 1 on this season. If he stays healthy, opens
holes for Marshall Faulk and protects Marc Bulger's backside, then nobody will
have a beef with O.P.

But if he struggles for a few weeks while trying to regain his game
conditioning and bearings . . . we'll, let's just say the controversy will roar
on.

This is a pivotal season for the Rams. Many experts believe the team is
teetering these days, just a key injury or two from starting a slide back to
mediocrity.

The loss of veteran offensive linemen Kyle Turley and Dave Wohlabaugh
compromised the offensive line. Chris Dishman came out of retirement to fill
one hole and journeyman Grant Williams will try to fill the other.

Even with a healthy, fully-prepared Pace, there were going to be questions
about this offensive line this year. So if Pace's performance is lessened by
his boycott, then Martz may have a crisis on his hands.

It is impossible to evaluate the offensive line until it faces real defensive
game plans and real action. This unit has suffered rocky starts in the past,
most recently with last season's fiasco at Giants Stadium.

Will it happen again? If it does, the blame will fall squarely on Pace.

I can certainly understand Pace's frustration with having to work under the
"franchise player" tag year after year. But he shares some responsibility for
his predicament.

If he wants a long-term commitment from the franchise, he needs to structure
his market-setting demands so that they fit into the team's salary cap
structure.

Also, HE has to make a commitment to the TEAM. It's a two-way deal. If he wants
to be paid as one of the franchise's cornerstones, then he needs to become one
of the franchise cornerstones.

The team must pick and chose which players get the long-term commitments. The
team must rewards its leaders, and players cannot lead in absentia.

Faulk is obviously one of those leaders. So Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Kyle
Turley got leadership money because he was willing to work.

Could Pace still finish his career as a Ram? Perhaps.

He would have to play very well from start to finish this season. Then he would
finally have to agree a long-term contract fair to him and the team, as the
others have done.

The he would have to get to the work on the '05 season, immediately, and start
leading by example for a change.

Only then could Rams coaches, players and fans forget about all the nonsense
that just transpired.