By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
02/03/2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Rams coach Mike Martz and running back Steven Jackson aren't the only ones unhappy with the surface at the Edward Jones Dome. In fact, they have plenty of company.

According to a survey conducted by the NFL Players Association, the playing surface in St. Louis was rated as the second-worst in the league. The RCA Dome, home of the Indianapolis Colts, was rated as the worst playing surface in the league.

More than 1,500 players participated in the survey.

Not surprisingly, the Edward Jones Dome and the RCA Dome are the only remaining AstroTurf surfaces in the NFL. The low rankings for both surfaces is an acknowledgement by players that artificial turf technology has surpassed that of AstroTurf.

"It's like playing on concrete," said Clark Gaines, a senior regional director of the NFLPA, who coordinated the survey.

The Rams are hoping to get a thicker, more forgiving FieldTurf surface installed in the Dome as soon as possible. This season, Jackson couldn't complete starts against San Francisco and Philadelphia in December after bumping his right knee on the Dome surface. He needed arthroscopic knee surgery after the season.

Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium and Arizona's Sun Devil Stadium were rated No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, as the top surfaces in the NFL. Both are grass fields.

The survey results were announced Thursday at the NFLPA's annual Super Bowl news conference.

The NFLPA also said that the salary cap for the 2005 season is expected to be $85.5 million a team.

The group also announced the franchise tag numbers for 2005. For offensive linemen, the new number is $7.424 million. But if the Rams name left tackle Orlando Pace their franchise player for the third straight year, it will cost them a little under $8.5 million.

That's because under league rules, franchise players either get the new franchise tag number, or 120 percent of their previous salary, whichever is greater. In Pace's case, he would get the 120 percent, or $8.5 million. (He made just over $7 million in 2004.