St. Louis Rams OG Rodger Saffold Out for Season; Justice Cunningham Promoted, Trey Watts Re-Signed to Practice Squad


The St. Louis Rams made a series of roster moves on Thursday, the most prominent of which was the placement of offensive guard Rodger Saffold on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that will require surgery. Tight end Justice Cunningham was promoted from the practice squad to fill Saffold’s spot on the 53-man roster, while running back Trey Watts, who had been released on Monday as he returned from a drug suspension, was in turn brought back to be a member of the practice squad.

As most Rams fans will recall, the Rams got Saffold back on a second-chance opportunity prior to last season, as he originally had an agreement in place to join the Oakland Raiders on a five-year, $42.5 million-dollar deal. However, Oakland failed him on a physical due to concerns about the long-term viability of Saffold’s shoulder, and he quickly ended up coming back to the Rams. By signing Saffold to a five-year, $34.3 million-dollar deal, the Rams took a gamble on the belief that the injury-riddled lineman would be able to stay healthy and perform at a Pro Bowl-caliber level at guard, as he did late in the 2013 season. The 27-year-old Saffold, who played tackle for the majority of his first four seasons in the league, had done a pretty good job of delivering on that promise since signing the contract, despite some minor injuries that caused him to miss parts of games, as he started all 16 games in 2014 for the first time since his rookie year in 2010. He also had a streak of 28 straight starts and 31 straight games played, dating back to November 10 and October 20, respectively, of 2013.

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Now, however, the Rams will inevitably face criticism for giving Saffold such a big contract when there was obvious concern about his ability to stay on the field. While some of that complaining is justified, especially since the Rams had already been burned by giving big-money deals to veteran linemen like Jacob Bell and Jason Brown, more responsibility really should lie on the Rams’ front office for not doing anything to provide insurance in case Saffold got hurt again. Now they’ll be forced to start Garrett Reynolds, a seven-year NFL veteran who has never really succeeded when given starting opportunities in the past, for the rest of the season. Beyond him, the outlook is exceptionally gloomy; the only other Rams lineman outside of the starting lineup who’s ever gotten any snaps from scrimmage is center Demetrius Rhaney, who played a few plays in this year’s opener when starter Tim Barnes had an equipment issue. If the Rams had drafted developmental linemen earlier on, rather than having to panic and draft five this year, or if they had successfully developed one of their many recent practice squad linemen, such as Brandon Washington or Sean Hooey, then this problem might not be so dire.

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Cunningham will give the Rams some insurance at the tight end position, which is needed since Lance Kendricks is using the bye week to have finger surgery. If Kendricks misses next week’s game against Cleveland, Cunningham may be forced into some action from scrimmage, though the Rams would likely find creative ways to reduce their amount of multi-tight end packages, instead running more three-receiver looks or packages with a backup lineman as an extra blocker.

Watts, meanwhile, gives the Rams a sixth running back to work with, which is pretty impressive when you consider that last year’s starter, Tre Mason, has had just seven offensive snaps in the past two weeks. If the Rams need protection behind Todd Gurley, however, they’ll certainly have it, as Mason, Benny Cunningham, special teams ace Chase Reynolds, practice squad back Malcolm Brown, and now Watts are in place as alternative options. As crazy as it sounds right now, those players could become important later on in the season as the Rams back Gurley off a bit to ease his continued recovery from 2014 ACL repair surgery.

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