ST. LOUIS — Rodger Saffold knows something is coming. The St. Louis Rams’ offensive lineman can feel it. He just isn’t sure when.
But, yes, he’s well aware that his offseason free agency odyssey from St. Louis to Oakland and then back to St. Louis has provided some material for his wannabe prank-artist teammates.
"I know that they are planning and scheming," Saffold tells FOXSportsMidwest.com. "I know that when we were out in our little sandbox area everybody was joking, saying that we were on Oakland’s beach. So I had to take that.
"I was like, ‘Oh, OK,’" Saffold continues, letting out a fake laugh. "That’s funny. Hilarious. They are going to get me. I can feel it coming. It’s kind of like when you know that people are talking about you behind your back."
Saffold isn’t worried about most of his teammates, many of whom are younger and less established than the four-year NFL veteran blocker, who soon will be 25. Only one particularly concerns him: center Scott Wells.
"Because I’m the third-oldest guy, there aren’t a lot of people that can play jokes on me," Saffold says. "Only the top two guys (Wells and Jake Long). Everyone else is like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this.’ I already know that Scott has something up his sleeve. I’m worried about it, honestly."
It’s easy to laugh about now, more than two months later, after Saffold signed a new five-year contract worth more than $31 million with the Rams just days after he agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with the Raiders that was nullified by Oakland because of a failed physical.
Saffold is happy to be back in St. Louis and the Rams, who would have had to replace two starters on the offensive line had he left, are certainly happy to have him.
Saffold proved his value last season when he started games at right tackle before suffering an injury, then right guard upon his return, and then shifting to left tackle — where he started his first three seasons — following Long’s season-ending knee injury.
So Saffold’s presence strengthens a line that lost guards Chris Williams (Buffalo) and Shelley Smith (Miami) to free agency and released Harvey Dahl (still unsigned).
"You’ve got four returning starters," Saffold says. "You can’t do much better than that. Now we just have to fill in a couple gaps, get some depth. That’s all for Les (Snead) and coach (Jeff) Fisher. They are the ones who are going to be making those decisions. We just have to keep working."
After re-signing Saffold, the Rams selected Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, claimed backup Travis Bond after he was released by Carolina and signed free agent Davin Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowler.
If the Rams can stay healthy up front — always a big if — Saffold and Co. could be the strength of the offense next season, run-blocking for Zac Stacy, Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham and pass-blocking for Sam Bradford.
Of course, staying healthy has been a problem for Saffold.
After the Rams picked him in the second round of the 2010 draft he started all 16 games his rookie season. After that, though, he played nine games in 2011, 10 in 2012 and then 12 last season.
"The second year was a torn pec in the weight room," Saffold says. "That was a freak accident. The third year was when I got the knee injury after picking up a fumble. So I’m just like, ‘How many breaks can you get?’ I think it’s finally over. I would hope."
He thought his bad luck was over early in the 2013 campaign, but after starting the first two games he would miss the next four with another injury.
"I said if I’m gonna make it through the second game, I’m gonna be just fine," Saffold says. "Of course, it was the second game when the defensive lineman falls into my knee. I wasn’t paying attention. I don’t even see him at all. I just know it. That kind of stuff stinks. At the end of the day, what can you do? Now I’m in the middle, in the trenches, so most likely I’ll see what’s coming and, hopefully, I can protect myself."
Now healthy, despite what the Raiders said, and happy, with his new contract, Saffold got right back to work at Rams Park after he re-signed.
Saffold says he’s as strong as ever — he reports weighing 325 after playing last season around 317 — and he’s ready to take the next step in his career while helping the Rams take another big step forward.
"I’ve just been trying to continue to perform at a level, the best I possibly can," Saffold says. "Not having sacks (allowed) last year. Only have one sack the year before. Those are huge, huge wins for me. The real key is just to make sure I continue to take care of my body and still play effectively like I’ve been doing."
The big fella no longer has to worry about what might happen when he hits free agency. He has the security of a five-year deal.
"Now it’s time to try to perfect the technique and be the best in the league," Saffold says. "There’s nothing else to worry about. Everything is taken care of. With no worries, you’re able to play to your top potential. You can take risks in games. There’s no more worrying about how you’re going to perform in this game for what’s to come in the offseason (as a free agent). It’s just playing. My big thing is to play and get to a Pro Bowl. To play and to be an All-Pro. That’s the goal for myself. For this team, it’s to win a championship."
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at email@example.com.