Rams play waiting game with free agents

2014-03-19T09:00:00Z 2014-08-13T07:53:55Z Rams play waiting game with free agentsBy Jim Thomas jthomas@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

As NFL free agency heads into its second week, the wait continues for the Rams to sign their first free agent from another team.

Quarterback Shaun Hill of Detroit completed his visit to Rams Park on Tuesday and headed home without a contract. But the parties continue to talk and it’s possible there could be a deal today. Besides, home isn’t far away for Hill. An avid fisherman, the Kansas native resides in the Lake of the Ozarks area. He can be back in St. Louis pretty quickly to sign a contract.

But the Rams continue to be rebuffed when it comes to the interior of their defensive line. First, it was Houston free agent Antonio Smith who had a visit scheduled with the Rams but ended up signing with Oakland.

On Tuesday evening, Chicago free agent Henry Melton tweeted that he was joining the Dallas Cowboys. Melton had been scheduled to visit St. Louis.

Melton, a 2012 Pro Bowler with the Bears, missed all but three games of last season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. After losing defensive tackle Jason Hatcher in free agency, the Cowboys were desperate for help on the interior of the their defensive line.

Dallas is a natural draw for Melton because he’s from that area, and Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was on coach Lovie Smith’s staff in Chicago during Melton’s first four seasons with the Bears.

Melton was not guaranteed to start in St. Louis, where the Rams are happy with starting defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford but are looking for a third defensive tackle in their rotation, particularly one with pass-rush skills.

Buffalo free-agent defensive lineman Alex Carrington remains a possibility for the Rams. The team has yet to schedule a visit with Carrington, but that could change now that Melton no longer is an option. Carrington, 6-feet-5, 301 pounds, suffered a thigh injury and missed the final 13 games of 2013.

The Arkansas State product appeared in 44 games over four seasons with Buffalo, including nine starts. He has four career sacks.

So far the Rams’ only signings in free agency have been the re-signing of offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. And the Rams got Saffold on the rebound, when his deal fell through in Oakland after a failed physical.

With the contracts now filed for Saffold and Dunbar with the NFL Players Association, the pair’s combined salary cap count for 2014 is just under $4.9 million. Of that total, Saffold counts $4 million against the cap next season, and Dunbar $880,000.

After those signings the Rams still have about $12 million in salary cap remaining. That total includes the $3 million in cap relief gained after cornerback Cortland Finnegan signed with Miami.

But that $3 million has yet to be credited to the Rams, and the team isn’t sure when that will happen. So at the moment, it’s not money they can spend. Also to be taken into consideration is that fact that a good chunk of that $12 million will be needed for signing Rams draft picks this year.


Saffold’s five-year contract includes plenty of quirks. Although several media outlets reported the guaranteed money as $19.5 million, technically it’s $11 million. The $19.5 million figure includes $4 million of base salary in 2015 and $4.5 million of base salary in 2016 that are guaranteed only if Saffold’s on the roster on the third day of the league year.

Interestingly, there’s a $3 million roster bonus in 2015 that includes offset language (such as was the case with Finnegan’s bonus).

So if 2014 turns out to be a nightmare season, the Rams could get out of the contract after paying only $8 million in 2014 (in the form of a $3 million base and $5 million signing bonus). That’s assuming they would get the entire $3 million roster bonus back if Saffold then signed elsewhere.

The Rams, obviously, are hoping that’s not the case.

Durability has been an issue with Saffold over the past three seasons, with him missing a combined 17 games because of injury from 2011-13. But he can make an extra $1.5 million over the final three years of the contract, which runs through 2018, simply by staying on the field.

He gets an extra $31,250 for every regular-season game he plays in 2015, ’16 and ’17 — which maxes out at $500,000 a year over a full 16 games.

Saffold can also void the either the fourth or fifth year of his contract if he’s voted to the Pro Bowl once at any time before year four or year five.

Lastly, escalator clauses that raise the value of the base salary based (usually) on team and/or individual performance, can add an additional $4 million to the deal if reached.

All of that can raise a contract that at face value is five years, $30.2 million to five years and more than $35 million.

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