Full disclosure: I’m a highly patient and deliberate man. I don’t like to react immediately to things because it takes me time to sift through the complicated and often conflicting details that emerge from the various reports.
The situation with Rodger Saffold is particularly complicated because it looks so bad for the franchise. If perception is reality, then the Raiders are a joke – they let their left tackle go, sign a lesser replacement for more money, and then void the deal of the replacement.
But perception is not reality – if it were, there would be no need to play the games and everyone would know who the playoff teams were before the season. Every season, however, teams that looked good on paper fall and teams that looked terrible rise to the occasion. Perception, then, is not reality.
How do we weigh the reports that have come out on Rodger Saffold? There is no clear-cut answer. There are some that believe that the Raiders may have had buyers remorse.
Others believe that this is a very big black eye on the franchise:
Then, there is Mike Silver who put the blame squarely on Mark Davis:
Not only that, Saffold’s agents weighed in on the events from their perspective.
It’s a lot to sift through and there is no clear narrative. All of it could be true. Most of it could be posturing.
So what are Raiders fans to believe?
1. Jared Veldheer may not have been an option outside of the franchise tag:
Per Scott Bair, Jared Veldheer’s camp made an initial offer and the Raiders countered with an offer of 5 years, $30 million, max, and $10 million guaranteed.
This is actually very close to the deal that Veldheer signed with Arizona, where he signed a deal for $35 million total with guaranteed salary of $10.5 million and a signing bonus of $6.25 million. Here is the contract breakdown for the Veldheer/Arizona contract
Per Bair, once the Raiders made their offer, they didn’t come up because they felt the Veldheer camp was too far away in negotiations to make it feasible.
We’ll never probably know all of the details but Veldheer’s eventual deal with Arizona was very close to the deal McKenzie offered – the difference is basically the signing bonus and probably some incentives on the top end.
Take that information and compare it to the Raiders paying for Veldheer as a franchise tag player. The Raiders would have paid more money in 2014 than Veldheer gets in guaranteed salary over the 5 years of his contract with the Cardinals. The cost for an offensive lineman who received the franchise tag in 2014 was $11.654 million.
There is no guarantee the Raiders would have been able to work out a long term deal with Veldheer after franchising him, either, although his camp has indicated he was very open to it.
Again, we’ll never know but there are certainly questions as to whether the Raiders could have signed Veldheer to a long term deal that made financial sense.
2. The open tampering period has some flaws:
The Raiders, like every team that made an agreement with a to-be free agent in this open period before Tuesday afternoon, made the agreement without checking out the player.
That is because the rules of the open tampering period do not allow physicals of the players prior to the start of actual free agency.
This rule makes some sense, in that these to-be free agents are not free agents, yet. But it also means that something like the Saffold situation can occur. This is probably a rule change waiting to happen because there is so much time and money riding on the big-name players that are signed at the beginning of free agency.
3. The Raiders offensive line still has options:
The Raiders went into yesterday afternoon with a number of possible options at OT. They signed emerging RT Austin Howard and have last year’s second round pick Menelik Watson. They also have Khalif Barnes, who they resigned to another 1 year deal and Matt McCants, who is still developing but who the coaching staff likes.
It’s not likely that Reggie McKenzie likes any of these players as much as he likes Saffold – hence the large deal given to Saffold – but they do like Watson and the signing of Howard made OT less an emergency.
4. The team looked at their options and chose to bite the bullet to move forward:
I don’t know if it was Reggie McKenzie who made the decision or if it was, as Mike Silver says, Mark Davis but I don’t think it matters. Somebody looked at the recommendation from the team’s doctors that Saffold get shoulder surgery and decided that the money he was being paid didn’t make sense for that amount of risk.
In some ways, that’s the safe option – they didn’t want to get stuck with an injured player for years – but in many ways that’s a big risk.
The team had to know that the media was going to crucify them for this. If they didn’t know that, they are completely oblivious to the outside world and from previous experiences, I know that to not be the case.
Even knowing how this would look and how the media would run with it, the team decided that it was in their best interest to cut ties on the front end and use the money elsewhere.
In economic terms, the time and energy lost to signing Saffold was a sunk cost – the Raiders can never get that back. So, the decision needs to be made with the information in front of them. With the information that had come to light, is Rodger Saffold worth what they were going to pay him?
The answer for the team – regardless of who made it – was “no.” Reggie McKenzie reportedly apologized profusely to the agents of Saffold but they declined to pay that large amount of money to Saffold, knowing his injuries and believing he needed surgery.
It looked bad that the Rams immediately signed Saffold to a deal, too, but it should be noted that the Rams/Saffold contract was lower than what the Raiders paid to him – reportedly 5 years, up to $31.7M and $19.5 million guaranteed. Those numbers may still be inflated.
In the end, the focus on free agency makes this a much bigger deal than it probably is. Team doctors disagree on players every year. Most of those players are able to find a different team that will sign them, usually at a lower number.
As always, this comes down to money, not the injury – the Raiders looked at the situation and decided they had too much money tied up in Saffold to merit the injury risk he brought to the table and they balked.
Is it embarrassing? Yes, it is.
Is it a team-killing situation? Not at all. In fact, there were many people who were doubtful that Saffold even had what it took to be an elite LT without the injury. Only time will tell if this is beneficial or detrimental to the team.
The Raiders still must spend their money this year to make sure they are in a position to meet the salary floor by 2016, so the team will now turn their attention to signing a good number of free agents in the second wave of free agency.
These may include DT Justin Tuck,DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley, DT Jason Hatcher and others. The three players mentioned were all in Alameda yesterday and into today and all have a decent chance of being signed.
It’s a good bet that all three will be given physicals before terms are agreed, this time.
For more Raiders news and thoughts throughout the day, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews