EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams haven't used the franchise tag since 2009, when they slapped it on safety Oshiomogho Atogwe to ensure they wouldn't lose him on the free-agent market. Barring a major last-minute change of heart, the streak of not using a tag will extend to five years in 2014.
The Rams have their share of free agents, but only one really merits a conversation about whether to use the tag. Offensive lineman Rodger Saffold is the team's most important free agent, but he's also not the type of player the Rams will or should overextend themselves to retain, especially at the franchise tag price.
Since moving to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams have used the tag six times, with half of those tags used on a particular offensive lineman. That player was Orlando Pace, the team's franchise left tackle and a likely future Hall of Famer. The word franchise precedes the word tag for a reason. If you are going to use it and spend the money associated with it, it usually needs to be for a foundational player such as Pace.
As good as Saffold was in a relatively small sample size at guard in 2013 and for all his versatility (able to play anywhere but center effectively), his injury history alone makes using the tag too much of an expense. While the franchise tag dollars aren't set in stone just yet, the salary for an offensive lineman receiving the tag is expected to be in the neighborhood of $11 million. Even if the Rams released center Scott Wells and guard Harvey Dahl, the savings wouldn't be enough to cover that expense.
Rams general manager Les Snead has openly acknowledged a desire to retain Saffold, and keeping him should be a priority because of his tremendous upside at guard and overall versatility. But the Rams also have their limits on how much they can spend on a player who hasn't played a full season since he was a rookie in 2010. Using the tag on Saffold would cripple the team's salary-cap situation and preclude it from adding help elsewhere.
Keeping Saffold would allow the Rams more flexibility in free agency and the draft, but what they can justifiably spend to do it is about half of what the franchise tag would cost. For another year, at least, the Rams' franchise tag will go unused.