On Thursday, the Rams placed OG Rodger Saffold on season-ending Injured Reserve. He will likely remain there for the remainder of the season. The Rams will not consider his future with the team until the new year. Provisions in the Collective Bargaining Agreement regarding vested veterans (base salaries are guaranteed after Week 1 for players with 4 or more years of experience) and injury settlements (Saffold's would be cost prohibitive) virtually assure he remains with the team at least until February. Given Saffold's injury history, current injury concerns and large salary cap hits from 2016 through 2018, will the Rams consider releasing him before the opening of the new league year in March?
Timing Of Saffold's Injury
After practice on Thursday, Coach Jeff Fisher addressed the media in his post-practice press conference. He spoke at length about the injury to Saffold's right shoulder, the upcoming surgery and estimated recovery time:
(On Saffold hurting his shoulder last year)
"He fought through it with the left shoulder, yeah, last year. So, we fixed it when the season was over. So, we’re getting an earlier start. His return to play and to 100 percent is estimated somewhere in February or March, so he’ll have a good offseason."
The offshoot of Fisher's timing remarks? The Rams have a reasonable chance of knowing how well Saffold has recovered from the injury before having to make a decision in March regarding his future with the team. Multiple shoulder issues/injuries are very difficult to fully recover from. The injury to his right shoulder is not only a crippling blow to the Rams' offensive line, but could be one to Rodger himself, to his tenure with the Rams and to his NFL career.
The accompanying chart presents Rodger Saffold's remaining contractual obligations with the Rams:
|Year||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Roster Bonus||Cap Hit||Dead Money||Savings|
Saffold's 2016 base salary ($4.5 million) becomes fully guaranteed if he's on the roster the third day of the new league year (March 18, 2016). The trigger date for the guarantee injects a measure of urgency into the Rams' decision-making process.
If the Rams do in fact release Saffold before March 18, 2016 they will incur $3 million in dead money charges against the salary cap. The salary cap savings upon his release: $3.0 million for 2016, $4.222 million for 2017 and $6.5 million for 2018, the final year of his contract.
Nothing precludes the Rams from attempting to re-sign Saffold at a significant discount after he is released. The Rams could also attempt to renegotiate his contract (instead of releasing him), with Saffold taking a substantial pay cut in the process, a pay cut that could be partially earned back through playing time incentives.
2016 Salary Cap Outlook
As noted, the Rams will gain $3 million in salary cap space for 2016 if Saffold is released before March 18. How important is that $3 million in the overall scheme of things? Currently, the Rams have 38 players (including Saffold) under contract for 2016. The Rams have approximately $120 million in total financial obligations counting against the salary cap for 2016. $155 million is my current estimate for the 2016 league-wide salary cap. $35 million remains available for signing/re-signing Free Agents.
$35 million is a significant amount of salary cap space. It may or may not be sufficient, as the Rams have 17 players eligible for Free Agency in March (many of whom they will likely try to re-sign):
Position Player FA Status QB Case Keenum RFA RB Benny Cunningham RFA RB Chase Reynolds RFA TE Cory Harkey UFA WR Brian Quick UFA C Tim Barnes UFA K Greg Zuerlein UFA DT Nick Fairley UFA DE Eugene Sims UFA DE William Hayes UFA OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar UFA OLB Daren Bates RFA CB Janoris Jenkins UFA CB Trumaine Johnson UFA SS Mark Barron UFA FS Rodney McLeod UFA FS Cody Davis RFA
Offensive Line Futures
Garrett Reynolds appears to be the likeliest candidate to replace Saffold for the remainder of the season. Cody Wichmann might also earn some reps before the season is done. I'm pretty high on him. Can either impress enough to render Saffold expendable in the offseason?
Given Greg Robinson's struggles at LT, it's tempting to move him inside. I still believe he's an elite talent who will develop into an All-Pro at left tackle. The notion of moving him inside is tempting nonetheless. The 2016 NFL Draft will likely be loaded with quality offensive tackles. Offensive tackle could end up as the strongest positional group in next years draft.
What Will The Future Hold?
Isaiah Battle and Darrell Williams may have bright futures ahead of them. Luckily, the Rams have many decent options to consider. Aside from center, should the Rams be looking to further bolster the interior line in the draft and adding guard to the list of positional needs?
When healthy, Rodger Saffold is the Rams' best offensive lineman, a true mauler who plays with heart. He's also the Rams' most experienced and versatile offensive lineman. Despite an extensive history of injuries (which have been a detriment to his performance levels over the years), Saffold still grades out as an above-average right guard. Plus he will only be 28 next June. Saffold could be so much more, if only he could stay healthy and on the field. Unfortunately, a pair of bum shoulders is a curse for an offensive lineman.
Many will suggest Saffold is just too injury-prone to count on for the long-term (or a full season for that matter). Others will add he's just not effective enough on the field to warrant being the 6th-highest paid guard in the league and that those dollars could be better spent elsewhere.
Will the Rams move forward with Rodger Saffold this offseason...or move on without him?