On Tuesday, offensive lineman Rodger Saffold agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with the Oakland Raiders. A little more than 24 hours later, he was back with the St. Louis Rams on a separate five-year contract after failing his physical in Oakland.
In what has been a frantic and often bizarre open to the NFL's free-agent period, Saffold's story may take the cake. The Raiders initially handed him a reported $21 million guaranteed, only to bail after a medical check revealed a shoulder issue, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. Schefter called the failed physical a "disagreement" -- Saffold and his camp arguing that he was healthy; the Raiders obviously pushing back. But the Rams did not hesitate at all to lock Saffold back up once Oakland put the kibosh on its deal.
Saffold has missed a total of 17 games over the past three seasons while dealing with myriad injuries -- head, shoulder and knee ailments among them. Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie still chased him hard in free agency at the expense of former Oakland tackle Jared Veldheer, who signed with Arizona on Tuesday after McKenzie opted not to use the franchise tag on him earlier.
The failed physical meant that Saffold was a free agent again for the briefest of moments. More importantly for the Raiders, it means that McKenzie has now lost out on his big, early free-agency splash. Oakland added Saffold and RT Austin Howard in hopes of bolstering a line that has underachieved for multiple seasons. Howard remains ticketed for the right side of the line, though 2013 rookie Menelik Watson may now claim left tackle by default, pending another move by McKenzie.
The Raiders' decision not to tag either Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston was met with scrutiny, mainly because Oakland carried more available cash into the offseason than any other team. Their quick move to agree to terms with Saffold -- for more money than Veldheer received from the Cardinals, both overall and in the guaranteed amount -- seemed to make it evident that the front office preferred the versatile guard/tackle over Veldheer, a hulking left tackle coming off an injury-hampered season of his own.
This may turn out to be a blessing in disguise from Oakland, depending on where McKenzie goes from here. Saffold's contract appeared generous for a player who had struggled to stay on the field. Even with a huge cushion under the salary cap, the Raiders' $21 million guaranteed-money commitment stood out as questionable.
Of course, Oakland's also now left scrambling to somehow replace Saffold. They had not yet made clear whether they planned play Saffold at left tackle with Watson as a reverse or to slide Saffold to guard with Watson starting, but they may have little choice now but to see what they have in Watson.
Drafting a tackle (Oakland holds the No. 5 overall pick in this year's draft) could be in the cards. A few possibilities also remain on the market, though the top left-tackle choices have been snatched up. Anthony Collins, Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie may be the best options remaining in terms of linemen with experience at LT. Oher was chased from that position last year by Eugene Monroe; McKinnie endured a very disappointing season.
This news will do the Raiders no favors in the court of public opinion either. Already labeled as a franchise struggling to get the ship pointed in the right direction, the loss of Saffold in such an unusual manner will add another mark to Oakland's reputation.Jake Long Sam Bradford