Saffold's unexpected return to Rams lessens their greatest area of need
MAR 13, 2014 3:55p ET
ST. LOUIS -- It took a bit longer than they probably wanted, and some unusual circumstances, but it looks like the St. Louis Rams will finally sign a key player in free agency in Rodger Saffold.
The former Rams offensive lineman -- who played right tackle, right guard and left tackle last season -- agreed to a $42.5 million, five-year contract with the Oakland Raiders at the start of the free agency period Tuesday afternoon.
But by Wednesday night that deal was voided after Saffold reportedly failed his physical exam with the Raiders. Instead, the 25-year-old was headed back to the Rams on what the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported could be a five-year deal worth just under $6 million per year with playing-time incentives that could push it to a total value of more than $30 million.
Re-signing Saffold, the team's second-round pick in 2010, was a priority this offseason because the Rams believed he could be an outstanding guard while providing the versatility to play either tackle spot if necessary.
When Rams coach Jeff Fisher spoke about Saffold at the Scouting Combine last month, he explained why the team wanted him back.
"It does give us flexibility," he said, "but I think ultimately he's going to be an outstanding guard in this league. Now, that doesn't mean to say that he could not play either tackle because this year he did. He stepped in when (left tackle) Jake (Long) went down and stepped in here and there and played some really good football at the tackle spot."
With Saffold's expected departure to Oakland, the release of right guard Harvey Dahl and both left guard Chris Williams and backup Shelley Smith expected to sign elsewhere, the interior of the Rams' offensive line became a major concern over the first few hours of free agency.
Williams, the only member of the Rams' offensive line to start all 16 games last season, agreed to a four-year contract with the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday reported to be worth $13.5 million. Not bad money for a guy who was released by his original team, the Bears, and signed with the Rams during the 2012 season.
St. Louis had already begun making plans for life after Saffold.
The Rams went after former Kansas City guard Geoff Schwartz, who signed a reported four-year deal worth $16.8 million with the New York Giants instead.
St. Louis brought in guard Davin Joseph, who had been released by Tampa Bay, for a free-agent visit Wednesday night and could still sign him. Joseph is a two-time Pro Bowler, but he missed all of the 2012 season with a knee injury and then did not play well in 2013.
ProFootballFocus.com rated Joseph as the second-worst guard in the NFL last season, with a rating of -34.4. By comparison, the website rated Schwartz (15.2) as the eighth-best guard, Saffold (9.4) as the 18th-best guard and Williams as the worst Rams lineman at -21.8.
Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports tweeted Thursday morning that even though Saffold was coming back and the Rams were negotiating with Joseph, the team was still expected to host guard Daryn Colledge on a free-agent visit Thursday.
Colledge, 32, was released by the Arizona Cardinals. He had signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal with the Cardinals in 2011 after playing his first five seasons in Green Bay. Colledge has started 124 of his 128 career games. Playing left guard for the Cardinals in 2013, he was rated by ProFootballFocus.com as the 39th-best guard (-1.4) in the NFL, just a couple spots behind Dahl (-1.1).
Either Joseph or Colledge would seem like a good fit at left guard for the Rams, who would likely return Jake Long at left tackle, Scott Wells at center, Saffold at right guard and Joe Barksdale at right tackle for 2014. It's also possible St. Louis could still draft a tackle, either Auburn's Greg Williams or Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Before the Saffold news broke Wednesday night, the Rams had a slow first 24 hours in free agency on Tuesday and Wednesday as some of the players linked to St. Louis signed hearty deals elsewhere.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner, formerly of Tennessee, agreed to a four-year, $26 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday night, around the same time that Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd agreed to a monster deal (reportedly $54 million over six seasons) with the New Orleans Saints.
By Wednesday morning it seemed apparent that the Rams would not be able to make a splash with a free-agent signing to strengthen one of their weaknesses -- offensive line, safety or cornerback -- and would instead try to find value with moderately priced players at those positions.
But now with Saffold back in the fold, with a sizable financial commitment, the Rams' other areas of need aren't nearly as pressing. It took them a while, but they were able to land the player they had prioritized.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.