Here's a quick rundown of some of the topics we hit during the course of the always lively conversation:
- The wisdom in retaining offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and how it went down.
- What Saffold staying does for the Rams' draft plans.
- Other free-agent possibilities
- Replacing Kellen Clemens and quarterback options
- The pending visit of free-agent WR Kenny Britt
- And much, much more.
Thanks to all who joined us and we'll be back for more next Friday at the usual 1 p.m. ET start time. For now, here's the complete transcript of Friday's chat.
Finnegan, apparently, is pretty good as an agent as he quickly managed a deal with Miami while representing himself. At first blush, it looks like a good deal for the Rams. Yes, the Rams.
St. Louis has a vested interest in how the contract is shaped. When the Rams released Finnegan last week, the immediate cap savings was $4 million with the potential to increase another $3 million based on offset language having to do with a roster bonus Finnegan was due on the third day of the league year.
The structure of the contract is not yet known but it seems there's a possibility for the Rams to realize the full additional $3 million savings based on Finnegan's deal with Miami.
It's too soon to say for certain whether that will happen but, if nothing else, we at least know the possibility is there based on how quickly Finnegan was able to sign another deal.
A roundup of Friday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we took a closer look at the multiple sides of the Rodger Saffold drama, including some tweets from Saffold himself. ... Next, I stepped into the chat room to talk all things Rams for a couple hours with plenty to discuss. ... Finally, after Saffold's news conference, we discussed how it was Saffold's move to guard that really paved the way for his return.
At stltoday.com, columnist Joe Strauss writes that it's time for the Rams to produce.
Bernie Miklasz takes a look at some options for the Rams' second quarterback.
Jim Thomas has some notes on the Rams' interest in other veteran guards.
The Carolina Panthers signed Rams tight end Mike McNeill to a two-year deal, the team announced on its website.
Turf Show Times makes the case for why the Rams' slow-play approach to free agency was wise.
To that point, the 2013 season had been relatively tumultuous for Saffold. Given Saffold's injury issues in 2012, the team signed Jake Long to play left tackle and asked Saffold to move to the right side. It was a move he didn't love but never publicly complained about. Then, after early-season injury issues again popped up, Saffold found himself sharing the right tackle spot with Joe Barksdale upon his return from a Week 2 knee injury.
The previous three weeks before the game against Indianapolis, Saffold split reps with Barksdale. But the Rams wanted to get their five best offensive linemen on the field and with Barksdale and Saffold alternating at right tackle, they took one of those five off the field for chunks of the game. Long before that, there had been whispers that Saffold might be a better fit inside but it had never been tried because the Rams didn't have many options at tackle.
So it was that Saffold, in looking for a chance to be on the field consistently, and the Rams, looking to put their best line together, hatched the plan to put Saffold at right guard. Rams coach Jeff Fisher recalled the pivotal decision spurred by offensive line coach Paul Boudreau on Friday afternoon.
"Well, the conversation was initiated by Coach 'Bou'," Fisher said. " It’s hard to find a better one in the league than ‘Bou.' He just felt like with his understanding and his knowledge, the fact that he would line up next to Scott [Wells], and Scott could be of assistance to him and athletic ability -- it was an easy decision."
Saffold worked at guard all week leading up to the Colts game, an experience that was foreign to him. But nearly from the moment he jumped into the lineup at guard, it looked like a natural fit.
The pass protection part became easier as Saffold was no longer forced to cover so much ground against speedier rushers on the edge. He held up fine in that regard, but it was his ability as a run blocker that opened more than a few eyes to his potential inside.
Saffold's athleticism and size allowed him to become the prototype pulling guard as the Rams often got him on the move and allowed him to open holes for running back Zac Stacy. His second start, against Chicago, was the better highlight reel as he regularly was noticeable down the field creating space for the Rams to rush for 258 yards in a win.
Unfortunately for the Rams, Saffold's sample size at guard wasn't as large as they would have liked as injuries to others, especially Long, forced him to move outside. Make no mistake, that versatility also helped Saffold's value but it was the glimpse of potential that elevated Saffold from a "might keep" to a "must keep."
Saffold's production inside didn't just change the Rams' view of his future but also made a difference for Saffold himself. When he first made the move, Saffold discussed it with me and another reporter. He didn't have any trepidation about the move but it was clear he was a bit unsure of himself.
After tasting success at guard, Saffold said he regularly spent extra time critiquing his technique and working to refine the details of his new position.
"Once things started going good, I was happy but I was also very, very hungry and very, very strict on myself," Saffold said.
Saffold's work was enough to draw the attention of other teams as he headed to free agency and make him the Rams' top priority. Oakland and Tampa Bay put on the full-court press and both were at least open to the idea of Saffold playing guard though Saffold indicated Friday he would have played left tackle for the Raiders.
Looking back on his first opportunity to play guard, even Saffold himself is taken aback by the domino effect the move created.
"Now that everything else has happened, it was pretty much a surprise for me as well," Saffold said. "I know that Coach Boudreau definitely had a lot of confidence in me, as well as Coach Fisher about playing the guard position, and I didn’t realize it until I actually started doing it."
Now that he has, there's no turning back.
"He made the switch last year, a difficult switch," Fisher said. "He was very, very productive inside. Our plan is to play him at guard as we continue to fill the pieces around him."
It's a notion that a year ago seemed far-fetched. As of Friday afternoon, it's Saffold's new reality.
It was one of the more bizarre situations you'll ever find in the NFL or any other professional sport. But it worked out for the Rams.
Perhaps as close as we'll ever come to having a grasp on what exactly took place that night can be found in this piece from Jim Thomas on stltoday.com. In speaking with Alan Herman, Saffold's agent, Thomas offers plenty of insight into how the evening played out from the Saffold camp's eyes.
Of course, that tells just one side of the story. The Oakland contingent insists that Saffold has a torn labrum in his shoulder and that was the reason for the failed physical. The San Francisco Chronicle offered some details of the Raiders' side.
As with any situation in which there are two sides to a story, there is probably truth to be found in both but one thing we can all agree on is just how strange the whole scenario is.
Saffold finally signed his five-year contract with the Rams early Thursday evening and soon took to Twitter to break his silence and offer some thoughts.
Here's a sample of those:
Let it be known that I am all in for the Rams! I am excited to play ball here and I'm happy to be home! Let's get a championship #RamsNation— Rodger Saffold (@Rodger_Saffold) March 13, 2014
A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... We began the day with a look at Mel Kiper Jr.'s third mock draft and followed with some reaction and analysis to the Rams' picks. ... Next, we provided a look at how Saffold's return gives the Rams flexibility in multiple ways. ... Finally, we capped the day with the reasons why the Rams would have been wise to keep backup quarterback Kellen Clemens around.
The news on Clemens' signing with San Diego.
Also at stltoday.com, columnist Bernie Miklasz discusses options for the Rams with the No. 2 pick.
Miklasz also takes the Rams to task for not being more active in free agency.
Jeff Gordon gives his take on the Saffold saga.
Many are wondering what, exactly, is going on in Oakland. National Football Post takes a crack at figuring it out.
Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar signed a two-year contract worth up to $3.5 million to remain with the Rams on Thursday night, a deal that came without the twists and turns of the Saffold saga.
Dunbar played in 12 games with 10 starts for the Rams in 2013 after serving a four-game suspension to start the year because of a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Upon his return, Dunbar figures to fill a similar role. He'd also probably like a return to something closer to his 2012 production when he posted 113 tackles, four and a half sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
In 2014, Dunbar will be reunited with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams coached Dunbar in New Orleans from 2009 to '11 and was supposed to be his coordinator in St. Louis before the NFL suspended Williams for his role in the Saints bounty scandal.
The Rams officially re-hired Williams as defensive coordinator in February. Dunbar turned 29 on Thursday.
Initial reports pegged the deal as worth $3 million over the two seasons, a modest contract that if fulfilled would come out to about $1 million more than the veteran minimum. Perhaps Clemens wanted to go to San Diego regardless -- who, other than Eli Manning, wouldn't? -- but that's an offer the Rams could have matched or slightly bettered to keep him. And they should have.
Perhaps more than anything, if the Rams are as set on drafting a young quarterback at some point in May as they have indicated time and again, Clemens would have made the ideal mentor.
Clemens is entering his ninth season in the league and by this time, we know he's best served as a backup. Considering Bradford is coming off an ACL injury, there's little doubt the Rams could stand to upgrade the depth chart at quarterback. The team has already been pretty open about adding a quarterback at some point in this year's draft and in an ideal world, that rookie would be able to serve as the No. 2 quarterback sooner rather than later.
But what if Bradford has a setback in recovery from ACL surgery? What if he suffers another injury early in the year? It's unlikely the Rams will be able to find a rookie quarterback in the middle rounds ready to step in and play right away.
Clemens knows coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense better than anyone and proved he can at least keep the Rams in games in 2013 when they went 4-5 with him under center. It made sense for Clemens to come back to serve as the primary backup for Bradford and tutor for the unnamed rookie until he's ready to become the No. 2.
Perhaps $3 million over two years is a little steep for a player who would be a No. 3 quarterback but I believe Clemens would have been worth it and, worst case scenario, the Rams could have moved on from him if and when the rookie was ready to contribute.
Instead, the Rams now find themselves in a situation similar to last year. Bradford is the starter and Austin Davis is the lone backup on the roster. Early in the 2013 offseason, the Rams had the same duo in place and seemed poised to give Davis the chance to become the backup. That never materialized as the Rams re-signed Clemens and opened up a competition which Clemens eventually won.
Bradford's injury left Clemens as the starter and the team brought Davis back to serve as a backup. The team clearly wasn't comfortable with Davis as the No. 2 last offseason and it's hard to see why this year would be any different.
Sure, the Rams could go sign a different veteran if they want to have a third quarterback around to help a potential rookie. Perhaps even one who will make less than Clemens in 2014. Bradford should be able to provide some veteran guidance by this point, too, but also has the more pressing need of recovering from knee surgery.
Losing Clemens isn't going to make or break the Rams' season, it might not even register a blip on the radar as 2014 moves along. But in the bigger picture, keeping Clemens around would have been a logical move for this season and beyond.
But in the event left tackle Jake Long isn't recovered from offseason knee surgery, Saffold has the ability to step in at tackle and play well as he did the final two games of last season. While the Rams still have plenty of work to do in reshaping the offensive line, keeping Saffold can cover up multiple leaks that might spring up in the meantime.
Perhaps more important in the here and now is what Saffold's return means for the Rams as they move toward the NFL draft. There's no way of knowing whether the Rams' draft plans were significantly altered by Saffold's expected departure. The same can be said of guard Chris Williams' contract with the Buffalo Bills. Or the likely exit of guard Shelley Smith.
If nothing else, those moves offered a clear indication that something, actually many things, would have to be done to patch up the offensive line. On the same token, Saffold's return isn't a cure-all either. He clearly has an injury history of his own but he at least offers some comfort because of that aforementioned versatility.
One of the worst things a team can do in the draft is make picks solely based on need but without Saffold the Rams likely would have been backed into a corner of needing offensive linemen, maybe earlier than ever.
Bringing Saffold back certainly won't preclude the Rams from investigating options on the line and one can make a good argument that adding another elite piece to the line early in the draft would be the boon needed to make the line ready for the rigors of the NFC West.
But if the Rams do opt to go a different direction with the second overall pick, it's a decision much easier to comprehend now than it was before the words "failed physical" took Twitter by storm.
With the crazy turn of events that took place Wednesday night that ultimately landed Rodger Saffold back with the Rams, the need might not be as pressing as first feared.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the Rams won't continue to bulk up the line in this year's draft. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is standing by his consistent choice of an offensive lineman for the Rams with the second pick in the draft. In his third shot at a mock, Kiper is again going with Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson at No. 2 but switching from Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans to Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 13.
Adding Robinson would be no surprise. He has been a favorite of mock drafts for some time and he would provide the Rams a hammer in the run game with plenty of upside as a pass-protector. It might be considered a little high for a player who might have to follow the Jonathan Ogden plan and play guard for a year but either way, Robinson would bring a much-needed elite talent to the offensive line for the long term.
The Rams have watched as the safety market exploded and teams moved quickly to remove them from the shelves. Which means it's likely going to be a position the Rams must address at some point in the draft. Clinton-Dix is a logical choice because of his range and cover skills though I've been a bit underwhelmed when watching him. Adding a quality corner or even another high quality offensive lineman such as Notre Dame's Zack Martin might represent better value but that's not to say that Clinton-Dix wouldn't make sense.
In the first version of Kiper's mock, he had the Rams selecting Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews. In version 2.0, Kiper changed the name but not the position, opting for Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. The Rams can't really go wrong with either player though a consensus seems to have emerged that Robinson is the prospect with greater upside while Matthews is the safer choice.
At No. 13, Kiper has been even more consistent, tabbing the same player for the same spot in Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.
Although we are only a few days into free agency, the Rams' needs on the offensive line remain and have actually been magnified a bit. Here's the latest projection from Kiper.
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.
After a disagreement with the Oakland Raiders regarding his physical condition, Rodger Saffold is returning to St. Louis to sign a five-year contract with the Rams, his agents Alan Herman and Jared Fox said Wednesday night.
Saffold signed his contract with the Rams on Wednesday afternoon after flying back to St. Louis from Oakland. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported the five-year deal to be worth $31.7 million with $19.5 million guaranteed.
The Rams, who officially announced the move Thursday, will reintroduce Saffold to the St. Louis media Friday at noon ET.
Herman and Fox said there was a strong disagreement on Saffold's condition. The Raiders had concerns about the lineman's shoulder, while the Rams had "no concerns whatsoever."
The agents contacted Dr. Frank Cordasco at the Hospital For Special Surgery in New York, and he studied Saffold's MRIs. His review indicated nothing was wrong with Saffold's shoulder.
ESPN.com Rams reporter Nicholas Wagoner contributed to this report.
Some quick thoughts on what's going on with the Rams as free agency moves past the first wave of expensive, splashy signings.
- The Rams aren't swaying from their patient approach to free agency. Wednesday morning, the team saw starting left guard Chris Williams depart for Buffalo while his backup, Shelley Smith, visited the New York Giants. Smith has a visit set up with the New England Patriots for Thursday if he doesn't sign with the Giants. St. Louis had interest in keeping Williams and still has a little (though not much) in retaining Smith. It's likely both will move on. We covered the ground on Williams earlier but for what it's worth, losing Williams and Smith isn't a big deal for the Rams other than it takes away a couple of guys who could provide solid depth. But the Rams can find and develop others to provide that depth. It's the starting five where upgrades are most needed and neither Smith nor Williams would have represented a line getting better had they stayed in St. Louis as starters.
- Speaking of the offensive line, the free-agent market simply doesn't offer much in the way of options who actually would provide an upgrade to the team's starting five. But the Rams are kicking the tires on at least one veteran option. Tampa Bay guard Davin Joseph is scheduled to arrive in St. Louis on Wednesday night for a visit. Joseph was once one of the league's best interior players but a knee injury cost him the 2012 season and though he played 16 games last year, he was unable to return to his previous form. Joseph does have ties to the Rams as chief operating officer Kevin Demoff was in Tampa for a few years early in Joseph's career. It's hard to imagine Joseph will draw a big-dollar offer so he might be worth a flier on a one-year "prove it" type of deal but anything beyond that would be extraneous.
- Elsewhere on the interest front, the Rams have expressed some in Buffalo defensive lineman Alex Carrington. Carrington has spent his career as a 3-4 lineman, operating more as a space eater type but would transition inside in a 4-3 defense. The Rams would like to add help on the interior to help lighten the load on backup ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims and join the rotation behind starters Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. Carrington doesn't have much history as a pass rusher, posting four sacks in four seasons, but he might be able to generate more pressure if moved to defensive tackle in an attacking 4-3 defense such as the Rams'. Reports indicate Cleveland also has interest and that might be the more logical fit. Carrington played for Browns head coach Mike Pettine in Buffalo last year.
- One quick housekeeping note: The Rams opted not to offer the exclusive rights tender to defensive back Quinton Pointer on Tuesday.
Williams, a former first-round pick, never panned out with the Chicago Bears. He started 16 games at left guard last season and now will have a chance to step into that same role with the Bills.
ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak, ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner, and ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson discuss the signing:
Rodak: Nick, how did the Rams' line as a whole perform last season? Did Williams make it better or worse?
Wagoner: As expected, the Rams had their share of injury issues on a line full of veterans. They were mostly solid, especially after the team refocused on the run game. But they also had their share of struggles, especially when they faced the dominant front sevens in the NFC West. Williams was the weakest link of the group, though he provided more durability than any of his linemates. He held up OK, but those division foes especially had a knack for getting the better of him.
Jeff, you saw Williams early in his career and when the Bears first tried to make him a guard. Did you ever envision he'd land a contract like the one he got from Buffalo?
Dickerson: Not a chance. The Bears touted Williams as their franchise left tackle of the future when the team selected him in the first round (No. 14 overall) of the 2008 NFL draft, but he hardly lived up to expectations and is considered one of the Bears' biggest draft busts, along with Gabe Carimi, in the last seven or eight years. His chronic injuries and uneven play ultimately led to his release. To be fair, Williams turned out to be much better suited to play inside at guard, however, he was never viewed as one of the elite guards in the NFL, except by the Bills, apparently.
Rodak: Jeff, Doug Marrone is a former offensive line coach and has valued size among offensive linemen early in his tenure with the Bills. Williams (6-foot-6, 326 pounds) is a load, but how effectively did he use his size with the Bears?
Dickerson: Again, I don't want to make it sound as if Williams was a terrible guard, but he never had the reputation of being an ultra-athletic or ultra-aggressive offensive lineman. Maybe that changed when Williams went to St. Louis. Obviously, he has the requisite size to play inside. Marrone is a terrific coach. Hopefully it's a good pairing. But his size was never viewed as a negative or a positive when Williams played in Chicago.
Rodak: Nick, what was your sense on how the Rams valued Williams? Do you think they wanted to bring him back as a starter?
Wagoner: They had interest in bringing him back, though I think it's likely if he'd come back he would have either been a backup or, more likely, in a competition for the starting job like he was in 2013. To me, it made sense if they could get him back to serve as a swing man simply because he could play anywhere on the line except center. Having a player like that at a cheap price is pretty much ideal for a backup. But I don't think they were going to extend themselves too far to bring him back. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has a great reputation for taking reclamation projects and getting something out of them. Although this is another starter subtracted from the line, I believe the Rams feel they can upgrade the starter at this spot and develop someone else to fill a backup swing role he could have had.
Jeff, something that applies to the Rams and Bills, but you saw up close. The Rams look like they're going to have to do some quick work to improve the line this offseason and they may have to use the draft to do so. It seems the Bears were able to do that last year, what did you see in how they were able to turn it around so quickly?
Dickerson: General manager Phil Emery double-dipped in free agency and the draft. He spent big bucks to land left tackle Jermon Bush and reunite him with his old New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, and followed that up by signing guard Matt Slauson. Both turned out to be major upgrades over what the Bears had in 2012. Then Emery drafted right guard Kyle Long in the first round and right tackle Jordan Mills in the fifth round to complement veteran center Roberto Garza. It was a stroke of pure genius.
Wagoner: The Rams might need some of that genius in the next couple of months here though when they lean on Boudreau to be their offensive line whisperer of sorts.
Mike, obviously this is a move that has Jeff and I scratching our heads, and I know you feel that way, too. What was the need for Buffalo on the offensive line, how do you see Williams fitting in and what do the Bills hope to get from him?
Rodak: Nick, the Bills have told Williams that they want him to be their left guard. That was a problem area for the Bills last season, as they never found someone reliable to step in for Andy Levitre. The Bills are big on Williams' size and if it works out, then he'll be an upgrade over Doug Legursky, who should ideally be their backup center. With the contract the Bills gave Williams, he should be starting at left guard on Day 1. If he's not, that's a problem. They're not paying him to be a backup, although with his versatility, he could help as a swing player at several positions. It's a signing that addresses an area of need but also comes with an element of financial risk.