- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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Saffold is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 11, and Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher have already made it clear that retaining Saffold is a priority. What's also become apparent in the past week or so is that Saffold figures to have quite a list of suitors if the Rams can't get him re-signed before free agency begins.
The NFL scouting combine often serves as an informal beginning to free agency where rumors begin flying and discussions about contracts start to take place. The Rams met with Saffold's representation in Indianapolis and began discussing parameters of a potential deal. I do believe the Rams when they say they want to keep Saffold.
It's also important to note, however, that the rumors of heavy interest in Saffold appear to be true. NFL player agent Marc Lillibridge joined Reed Low and I on 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis on Wednesday and offered his take on what it might cost to obtain Saffold's services.
"I know he's got a lot of grief," Lillibridge said. "I know he's done a lot with injuries and whatever else. I bet you Rodger Saffold gets Jake Long's contract or better if he hits free agency. From everybody I've talked to at the combine, people like Rodger Saffold. He's an underappreciated person around here ... there's a lot of value in him."
For a refresher on Long's contract, the Rams inked him to a four-year, $34 million deal with up to $16 million guaranteed. Some of that guarantee can be tweaked because of Long's injury now but it's likely he'll get all $16 million of the original guarantee barring a surprising shift in belief in Long by the Rams.
Regardless, those are the numbers Lillibridge is alluding to when he says the Rams will have to pay up to keep Saffold. Those are numbers most commonly associated with an offensive tackle. By now, it's obvious that Saffold can play tackle but might be best suited as a guard. Even Fisher acknowledged at the combine that the team views Saffold as a potentially "outstanding guard."
The question then becomes whether the Rams can afford to pay Saffold that type of money. The answer, in theory, is yes. The salary cap is expected to take a big leap this year and there are things the Rams can do to create more space to make it work. But just because the Rams probably could afford it doesn't necessarily mean they should.
Saffold's injury history is well-documented but as a reminder he's missed 17 games and parts of others in four seasons. That means there's risk involved with signing Saffold at any price, let alone a steep one similar to Long's.
The Rams would probably love to strike a deal with Saffold before free agency but for that to happen, the reality is they'd have to overpay even further to do it. With free agency this close to starting, Saffold's representation would need some major incentive to keep from testing the market and seeing what's out there.
The guess here is that if indeed Saffold's price reaches Long's level, the Rams will be forced to bow out but if it stays south of that line, they might be able to pull it off. One way or another, what the Rams do this offseason will depend greatly on Saffold's price tag.