In a couple of days, the 2014 offseason festivities will officially begin with the start of the NFL Combine. By this time next week, Draft Boards, especially on the lower end, will be drastically re-arranged, with some players’ stock skyrocketing and others’ plummeting into UDFA-range. However, until then, football lovers will still be hunting for something to keep their minds occupied. For some, that means previewing the upcoming free agency period; exploring franchise tag possibilities, predicting re-signings, and prioritizing players’ contracts.
The latter of those was addressed in a recent column by Eric Mack , the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. His piece lists the “toughest contract decision” for each team in the NFL, which includes a handful of obvious players (i.e. Jimmy Graham for the New Orleans Saints) and a number of not-so-obvious choices (i.e. Mike Glennon for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
For the St. Louis Rams, they choose to go down the “path of most resistance,” selecting Sam Bradford as the St. Louis Rams toughest decision. Despite exhaustively repetitive statements from both Les Snead and Jeff Fisher, some still believe that there is some big decision looming in St. Louis,
They need to decide if they want to go in another direction, particularly with them holding the second and 13th picks in this upcoming draft. [...]What’s worse is that he is coming off a torn ACL from Oct. 20. The decision has been made to stick with Bradford to date, but might they change gears in the coming weeks? -Eric Mack
Aside from those who choose to cover their ears and relentlessly deny the comments of the Rams’ front office, there is no “decision” to be made on Bradford his offseason. Sam Bradford will start 2014 as the starter, then will be re-evaluated at the end of the season.
However, it does beg the question: Who is the “toughest contract decision” in St. Louis this offseason?
On one side of the coin, the toughest decisions might be which player(s) to release to free up some cap space. In one case, some may look at Cortland Finnegan and see an aged veteran who was a liability in the defensive secondary for the opening quarter of last season, prior to going on IR. However, cutting Finnegan will cost the St. Louis Rams $6 million in dead money, saving the team only $4 million in cap space. Moreover, they will lose their newly-deemed third cornerback, without a viable replacement currently on the roster.
In another case, Harvey Dahl seems like an easy cut, considering his 1) “zero” dead money figure, 2) his relatively average performance since coming to St. Louis, and 3) his substantial injury history, especially towards the end of the regular season. However, the guard spot is arguably the weakest position in the entire offense, and cutting a veteran starter certainly does not help that situation.
That leads us to our winner for the “toughest contract decision” in St. Louis: Rodger Saffold.
The Rams’ 2010 2nd-rounder has been a roller coaster of inconsistency in his relatively short career with the team. He started his tenure by erasing the memory of Jason Smith at left tackle, but finished 2013 (a mere four years later) at right guard, after being double-demoted in favor of Jake Long at left tackle and Joe Barksdale at right tackle. The decision on Rodger Saffold is extremely complex,with two major factors playing a substantial roles. First, will he demand “left tackle money,” despite the anticipated move to guard? Secondly, do the Rams want to invest heavily in an offensive lineman who has already earned, justifiably, the “injury-prone” tag?
Paying Rodger Saffold like a top left tackle would likely cost the St. Louis Rams somewhere north of $7.5 million per year. The Rams simply do not have that space. Paying him like a borderline-Top 10 guard , which he showed to be last season, would likely fetch a contract in the $5.25 million per year area. They may or may not have that room, depending on their actions in the coming weeks with veteran contracts.
The Rodger Saffold decision will not only effect the St. Louis Rams in free agency, but will drastically effect the how they navigate through the 2014 NFL Draft. Re-signing Saffold would mean, at least on the surface, that the Rams have locked up a starting guard, that also has experience at the left and right tackle spots. If they fail to re-sign Saffold, St. Louis will potentially be on the prowl for both a starting guard and offensive tackle depth in the draft. The Sam Bradford “situation” does not come close… at least for this year’s offseason!