Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Rams get Saffold back in wild fashion
By Nick Wagoner
There hasn't been much in the way of news for the St. Louis Rams this offseason. But when there has been, it's taken something completely out of the ordinary for it to come to fruition.
It will be hard to top what happened in a span of about 15 minutes Wednesday night when offensive lineman Rodger Saffold failed a physical with the Oakland Raiders and quickly agreed to re-sign with the Rams. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter characterized the failed physical as a "strong disagreement" about the status of Saffold's shoulder.
That disagreement led to Oakland pulling the plug on a contract believed by many, including myself, to be one of the riskier contracts handed out on the second day of free agency: a five-year, $42.5 million with $21 million guaranteed. It was a contract that was beyond reasonable for a player who had missed 17 games and parts of others in the past three seasons. The Rams agreed, opting to pass on paying such a high price for Saffold even though he was their top offseason priority.
Terms of Saffold's deal to return to St. Louis are not yet available, but before he accepted Oakland's offer, the team was believed to be offering something closer to $6 million in average annual value with incentives for playing time (read: staying healthy).
Determining whether a player has passed or failed a physical is at the discretion of team doctors. According to Schefter's report, the Raiders were concerned by something they saw in the shoulder, but the Rams, who obviously know Saffold well, had no such concerns.
Saffold injured his shoulder in the 2013 preseason opener against Cleveland but returned late in the exhibition season and started the season opener against Arizona at right tackle. From there, While Saffold suffered a knee injury in Week 2 against Atlanta and took a blow to the head in the season finale against Seattle, he never had recurring issues with the shoulder.
At last month's NFL combine, Rams coach Jeff Fisher made it clear that keeping Saffold was at the top of the to-do list with the idea that Saffold would be a starter at guard and provide insurance at tackle.
"Obviously it's important for us to get that done," Fisher said then. "He's expressed serious interest in coming back as well. So it does give us flexibility. But I think ultimately he's going to be an outstanding guard in this league. Now that doesn't mean you say he could not play either tackle, because this year he stepped in when Jake [Long] went down and stepped in and played some really good football at tackle."
Presuming Saffold's departure, the Rams had already begun exploring contingencies. They lost out on Geoff Schwartz to the New York Giants and were hosting Tampa Bay guard Davin Joseph at dinner when news of the failed physical arrived Wednesday night. That news clearly was cause for surprise, but given how things have played out for the Rams so far this year, maybe it shouldn't have been.
If taking a long and winding path to get what they wanted all along sounds familiar, it's because that's something the Rams have already done this offseason. After a period of relative quiet to begin the offseason, the Rams suddenly fired defensive coordinator Tim Walton. Before anyone could even begin to speculate on who his replacement might be, the Rams had a deal in place with Gregg Williams to take over.
That was the same Gregg Williams whom the team had hired to take over in 2012 but was suspended for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and not retained by the team afterward. The same Gregg Williams whose relationship with Fisher seemed too frayed to repair. Sure enough, the Rams brought Williams back on a day that served as a reminder that anything can happen in the NFL.
Wednesday night provided yet another, perhaps stranger reminder of that. Once again, the Rams were involved in something wild. Once again, they ended up with the person who was their first choice all along. Once again, it all worked out.