The St. Louis Rams received an early Christmas present from the Oakland Raiders on Wednesday night. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Raiders nixed Rodger Saffold’s five-year, $42.5 million deal after a medical check revealed a bum shoulder.
Update: Per Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Rams and Saffold reached an agreement on a five-year, $31.7 million deal that includes $19.5 million guaranteed.
Subsequently, Raiders owner Mark Davis reportedly pulled the plug on the deal and sent Saffold packing, per Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com. This proved to be good news for Rams general manager Les Snead. St. Louis’ front-office staff immediately hopped on the phone and inked the fifth-year offensive lineman to a five-year deal.
Even though St. Louis had been extremely quiet on the free-agent front, the Rams' first signing of the year was a huge score. Saffold was a godsend for them at right guard in 2013, and head coach Jeff Fisher believes the 332-pound mauler will be an “outstanding guard” in the NFL.
Fisher’s comments shouldn’t surprise anyone. The folks at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) were high on Saffold’s game as well. In six starts and 353 snaps at right guard, he finished the season with a plus-2.2 pass-block grade, a plus-5.8 run-block grade and a plus-9.4 grade overall.
Despite a limited number of reps as an interior offensive lineman, he finished the regular season as the 18th-best right guard in the league. That’s incredible when one takes the time to consider how mediocre of a player Saffold was when he took snaps at right and left tackle.
Obviously, the sample size in 2013 was small, yet Saffold’s ceiling is incredibly high. He’s only 25 years old and is entering the prime years of his career, which means a full offseason of coaching will do wonders for his development.
Per Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, Saffold “needs to be more consistent with his footwork” in pass-blocking situations and not let his weight pull him forward. When his weight pulls him forward, it forces him to lose his balance far too often.
This was evident when the Rams squared off against the Arizona Cardinals. In 36 pass-block snaps, Saffold had a hard time containing defensive ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Dockett and Campbell combined for five quarterback hits and three quarterback hurries in a Week 14 win over St. Louis.
As far as his ability as a run-blocker goes, this is where he truly excels. Miller had nothing but good things to say about Saffold when he evaluated his skill set for B/R NFL 1000:
Saffold’s athleticism instantly stands out on tape. He seamlessly slides behind the line of scrimmage when asked to pull and advances to the second level with ease. Once Saffold locates his assignment, he is aggressive and powerful. As a run-blocking guard, Saffold has a comfort and freedom that wasn’t there when he was a tackle.
Fortunately for Saffold, it doesn’t sound like offensive line coach Paul Boudreau will have to critique his game too much during the offseason. Just like any other player, adjustments will be made to his technique. Yet, his overall arrow is pointing up.
That is if he can stay healthy. Aside from his infrequent lapses in pass protection, the only other thing that has hampered Saffold’s career is his health. Over the course of four seasons, the second-round pick out of Indiana has missed 17 regular-season games with a variety of injuries.
To some, that is a concerning number. However, the Rams feel his health is not an issue based on the fact he passed his year-end physical at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
The term “injury-prone” is thrown around too loosely, but in Saffold’s case it’s hard to ignore the facts. Clearly, missing 17 games in four seasons isn’t ideal, so the Rams have to make sure they cover their basis when negotiating with Saffold’s agent on his five-year deal.
According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it sounds like they are:
You would have to think the incentives Thomas tweeted about are in regard to injuries and playing time. Obviously, we won’t know the true language of the contract until it is signed on Thursday, yet it’s safe to say the Rams made out like bandits.
Per Thomas, Saffold’s deal will be similar to the one the team offered him before he bolted for Oakland. That deal was a five-year variety at just under $6 million a year. This, in turn, means he should be making a little more than $30 million with the Rams when it’s all said and done.
Yes, $30 million is an awful lot of money for an often-injured player, yet the key will be how much money he receives guaranteed. Moreover, the salary-cap floor went up in 2014 and is set to go up again in the coming years, so $30 million is not a lot of money if he only receives $15 million guaranteed.
In the end, the Rams scored a huge win by re-signing Saffold. He was the team’s biggest offseason priority, and he immediately fills a void on an offensive line that is desperate for help.
St. Louis’ luck has been down in recent years, but maybe this turn of events will help the Rams garner their first winning season since Mike Martz was roaming the sidelines in 2003.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).