Keeping Saffold is Rams' top priority

INDIANAPOLIS -- Be it now or after the start of the NFL free-agency period on March 11, the St. Louis Rams intend to keep offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.

At least, that was the company line coming from general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher on Friday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Rams have a handful of unrestricted free agents poised to hit the open market in a couple of weeks, but none are more important to shaping the offseason than Saffold. That's why the team is expected to meet with Saffold's representatives here this weekend and get further understanding of what it will take to retain him.

In the meantime, Fisher and Snead emphasized the importance of bringing him back when asked about it Friday.

Fisher even went so far as to reveal the team's plan for Saffold in the event the Rams can get his signature on a contract.

"Obviously it’s important for us to get that done," Fisher said. "He’s expressed serious interest in coming back as well. So it does give us flexibility. But I think ultimately he’s going to be an outstanding guard in this league. Now that doesn’t mean you say he could not play either tackle, because this year he stepped in when Jake [Long] went down and stepped in and played some really good football at tackle."

That's a sentiment Snead willingly echoed.

"He's definitely a priority this offseason for us," Snead said. "Those situations, they're gonna run their course, and in time we'll know."

Considering the many moving parts on the Rams' offensive line heading into the offseason, keeping Saffold would be an obvious move to lessen the burden. Saffold's ability to be, as Fisher puts it, an outstanding guard, makes him appealing. His ability to play both tackle spots and hold his own there makes him a necessity.

Starting left guard Chris Williams is also scheduled for free agency, center Scott Wells and guard Harvey Dahl are potential cap casualties, and left tackle Long is recovering from a torn ACL and MCL. That leaves plenty of question marks along the offensive line. Having Saffold in the mix could potentially alleviate some of those concerns.

"I’ve learned from people wiser than me that being versatile is something," Snead said. "The ability to be versatile at guard and left tackle and right tackle, usually it’s maybe both guards and center, but that’s a nice piece or asset to have."

It's also an asset that other teams wouldn't mind having. Other teams have already expressed interest in Saffold's services. The fact that teams and agents spend the week together in Indianapolis will do nothing but further fuel that fire.

Beyond that, as teams begin using the franchise tag to retain their own key players, Saffold's status as one of the top available linemen should only grow.

The hardest part for the Rams will be determining what a fair price is, but also what price will get a deal done to keep Saffold off the market. With free agency so close, that figures to be a difficult proposition.

Saffold's injury history -- he's missed 17 games and parts of others in four seasons -- is a red flag that could give the Rams and others some pause before handing over a big contract.

Despite the expected interest from other teams and the cost it would take to keep Saffold from testing the market, Fisher seems optimistic about the Rams' chances.

"It’s not an easy thing to do what he did, and then go back and play tackle at a high level and then go back to guard," Fisher said. "He is very athletic, he’s very talented. He’s good with that. He understands that. He’d welcome the opportunity to come back and play inside."