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    Bernie: Saffold Wasn't Worth It, But Rams Have Holes

    Bernie: Saffold wasn't worth it, but Rams have holes

    1 hour ago Bernie Miklasz

    I'll get right to the point: the Oakland Raiders' decision to give former Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold a five-year deal for $42.5 million is one of the nuttiest contracts I've seen since I began writing about the NFL in the early 1980s. When I saw the numbers which includes $21 million in guaranteed money I really did laugh out loud.

    I suppose the Rams should be commended for not losing their minds here. Then again, does this really warrant a compliment? I mean, should we really praise the Rams' bosses for possessing a minimum supply of sanity? Say what you want about chief operating officer Kevin Demoff, GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher, but I don't think they're bat-dung crazy. I don't think they're angling to get fired, either.

    Saffold has started an average of around nine games over the past three seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Saffold played 557 snaps in 2013, and 621 snaps in 2012, and 618 snaps in 2011.

    Saffold was a tackle, only in '11 and '12.

    During the 2011 season, 59 offensive tackles played more NFL snaps than Saffold. In 2012, that number was 57 offensive tackles.

    The accounting for last season is more difficult because Saffold split time between OT and guard. But we do know this: in 2013, a total of 154 NFL offensive lineman played more snaps than Saffold.

    What the heck were the Raiders thinking?

    They allowed Jared Veldheer, only 26, to leave as a free agent instead of using the franchise tag to keep him. Granted, Veldheer was injured for much of last season, playing only 335 snaps because of a triceps injury. But there had never been any durability issues before. And in 2011, Pro Football Focus ranked Veldheer No. 17 on the list of the best offensive tackles. In 2012, Veldheer moved up to No. 12 on that list, and was ranked No. 9 in pass protection.

    Besides, if the Raiders were concerned about Veldheer's durability, then why would they invest so heavily in Saffold paying him at a premium level usually reserved for franchise left tackles?

    Initial media reports in the Bay Area suggested that Saffold would be installed at left tackle. Well, as left tackles go, Veldheer is clearly better than Saffold. And if Saffold ends up playing guard in Oakland, the contract becomes even more absurd.

    Meanwhile, the Rams were hurt by the move in two ways:

    One, they lost Saffold. Again, the Rams would have been spectacularly stupid to pay Saffold the kind of money he received from Oakland. But that doesn't change the reality going forward: the Rams have another hole to fill. in a precariously thin offensive line.

    Second, NFC West rivals Arizona swiftly moved in on Veldheer to stabilize a chronically weak position, giving him five years and $37.5 million to settle their left tackle spot. That's been a bad area for the Cardinals for a long time, and now it's fixed. The Cardinals will also have left guard Jonathan Cooper back. The immensely talented Cooper, drafted No. 7 overall last season, broke a leg in training camp and missed the 2013 season.

    All of a sudden the Cardinals have dramatically bolstered the left side of their line, and that's a big plus in a division loaded with outstanding defensive fronts.

    When you're the fourth-place team trying to catch the third-place Cardinals (as well as the Seahawks and *****) it's probably a negative to see the Cardinals get better up front as you're getting worse.

    I don't know what the Rams plan to do for guards, or for insurance at tackle. This is obviously a problem. They're talking about bringing Harvey Dahl back to play guard. Harvey is a warrior and all of that, but he's been beaten up over the last two years. Dahl played more than 1,000 snaps for the Rams in 2011, but his snap count declined to 950 in 2012, and to 543 last season.

    As I write this Rams' free-agent guards Chris Williams and Shelley Smith haven't signed elsewhere, so perhaps the Rams will reconsider keeping one or both. Smith was a strong run blocker last season but struggled in pass protection. Among NFL guards that played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps, Pro Football Focus graded Williams 54th on a list of 60.

    11:30 a.m. update: Williams is gone, having signed with the Bills. And Smith is visiting the NY Giants.

    As for what's left ...

    Barrett Jones (drafted in the fourth round last year) should have a chance to win a starting job at guard unless the Rams have plans for him at center. Injury-prone center Scott Wells loomed as a salary-cap cut but with Rams' offensive linemen rushing to sign with new employers, the team may need to keep Wells around.

    Given the Rams' situation, if Jones isn't a serious candidate to come out of this with a starting gig, then you have to begin questioning the decision to draft him. The Rams also have guard Brandon Washington who spent time with Philadelphia and San Francisco. He's s still young and seems to have potential, but do the Rams' view him as a potential starter for 2014? I don't know. Same with center Tim Barnes.

    The way things are right now subject to change you'd have to think the Rams will be aggressive about picking a guard early in the 2014 draft. Probably not the first round, unless they trade down. But this is an obvious area of need.

    Given how veteran free-agent safeties went flying off the market Tuesday, the Rams probably will have even more of a desire to take a safety early in the draft as well maybe with their 13th overall pick, as Post-Dispatch and STLtoday football writer Jim Thomas has suggested.

    Some of the most appealing free-agent cornerbacks are already gone, too.

    I'm surprised the Rams weren't more aggressive in pursuing free-agent CB Alterraun Verner. Relative to the spending madness that's taking place throughout the cash-rich NF, Verner's free-agent deal at Tampa Bay was reasonable.

    But remember, Snead recently said the seven-win, last-place Rams don't have any glaring roster weaknesses, which was probably good for a few laughs in Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona.

    Though Verner represented a good gamble, I don't have a problem with the Rams declining (at least so far) to throw huge dollars at free agents. The current regime's track record with signing premium, expensive free agents is sketchy. But their free-agent scorecard will look more attractive if flex tight end Jared Cook becomes a more consistent receiving threat and defensive tackle Kendall Langford continues to improve in 2014.

    Thanks for reading


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    Rambos's Avatar
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    Re: Bernie: Saffold Wasn't Worth It, But Rams Have Holes

    I wonder if Gregg Williams had some input on Alterraun Verner. Lets not forget that last year according to Williams he was going to be cut. Maybe his input was he's not that special, it was more the scheme that made him productive.

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