In three months' time, general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher have completely retooled the St. Louis Rams offensive line.
First, the organization re-signed offensive guard Rodger Saffold to a five-year, $31.35 million deal ($15 million guaranteed). Then, it drafted Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the second overall pick in this year’s draft. And lastly, St. Louis signed Pro Bowl offensive guard Davin Joseph to a one-year prove-it deal on Wednesday.
Yes, all three moves come with a certain amount of risk considering Saffold’s injury history, Robinson’s less than impressive pass-blocking skills and Joseph’s sharp decline. Yet, one has to remember that every move in the NFL is a gamble.
And sometimes, the biggest gambles pay off.
Will the gamble of signing Joseph to a one-year prove-it deal pay off, or will his looming knee injury from the 2012 season make his stay in St. Louis short-lived?
Under the assumption that the Rams medical staff is comfortable with the condition of Joseph’s surgically repaired knee, we can comfortably say St. Louis did the right thing when it signed the ninth-year veteran.
Not only will Joseph provide St. Louis’ locker room with great leadership, he will provide the Rams with low-risk, high-reward versatility and depth.
Here’s what Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com had to say about the depth and versatility Joseph will provide:
For the Rams, the expectation is that Joseph will provide depth behind projected starting guards Robinson and Saffold. Joseph also provides insurance in case left tackle Jake Long is unable to start the season. Long suffered a torn ACL and MCL against Joseph's former team late in the season.
Wagoner’s assessment of the situation is spot-on: Even though the scenario of Long not being ready for the start of the 2014 season hasn’t been heavily discussed, it’s a real possibility that the four-time Pro Bowler may not be ready Week 1.
If that ends up being the case, Joseph’s presence would allow the Rams to kick Robinson or Saffold outside to left tackle until Long is ready to go.
This, in turn, means Joseph would man one of the two guard positions.
Odds are the Rams would make Robinson Sam Bradford’s blindside protector because he is the team’s left tackle of the future, and Saffold is at his best when he’s manning the right guard position on a weekly basis.
In fact, Saffold performed so well at right guard, the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) awarded him with a plus-9.4 grade overall in 353 snaps last year.
As far as Joseph goes, his numbers from the folks at PFF paled in comparison to Saffold’s.
Since PFF started grading games in 2007, Joseph has amassed a negative-73.7 grade overall in 87 starts at right guard, via Pete Damilatis.
That is by far the worst grade of any guard during the PFF era. However, PFF is not the be-all and end-all. Some NFL analysts (past and present) believe Joseph is a better player than he’s given credit for.
Obviously, at 30 years of age, Joseph will never materialize into a Hall of Fame player, but he does show enough as a pass protector to be viewed as a top-tier starter as long as he’s healthy.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report touched on Joseph’s pass-blocking power at the end of his most recent Pro Bowl season in 2011: “Joseph improved in this area over the course of the year. Showed good awareness and the strength to chip with the center and then look to locate blitzers.”
Despite Joseph’s poor overall grades from PFF, his pass-blocking numbers go hand in hand with Miller’s praise.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Joseph has only surrendered five quarterback sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 32 regular-season starts. This means he allowed a quarterback sack once every 6.4 games and a quarterback hit once every 3.2 games.
Based on those numbers, it’s easy to see why the Rams signed Joseph to a one-year prove-it deal. Snead and Fisher are committed to keeping Bradford upright after the Rams offense permitted 36 quarterback sacks, 38 quarterback hits and 124 quarterback hurries in 2013.
|St. Louis Rams Offensive Line Depth Chart|
|Jake Long||Greg Robinson||Scott Wells||Rodger Saffold||Joe Barksdale|
|Mike Person||Travis Bond||Tim Barnes||Davin Joseph||Mitchell Van Dyk|
|Sean Hooey||-||Barrett Jones||-||Abasi Salimu|
Nevertheless, if Long ends up being ready for the start of the 2014 season, Joseph will assume the role of swingman for left guard Robinson and right guard Saffold.
More than a few Rams fans chimed in and said the Joseph signing signaled a move to offensive tackle for Robinson or Saffold, but that’s simply not the case.
The organization has been incredibly vocal about its plans for Robinson and Saffold, so a change in plans now wouldn’t make a ton of sense.
According to two different reports from Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Saffold will begin the season as the team’s starting right guard. And Robinson will begin the season as the team’s starting left guard.
In summary, it doesn’t matter if Joseph starts at left guard or is the swingman for Robinson and Saffold. The only thing that matters is if Joseph finds a way to stay healthy and lives up to expectations as a member of the Rams.
By managing to do those two things, Joseph will undoubtedly be given the opportunity to extend his career for at least another year in 2015. Shoot, he may even be given the chance to compete for a starting job if he ends 2014 on a high note and hits the open market.
Kudos to Snead and the rest of the Rams’ front-office staff: St. Louis addressed an area of need and did it with a low-risk, high-reward signing.