Rodger Saffold does not make sense for the New York Jets
On Thursday, the Tennessee Titans released guard Rodger Saffold to clear $10.4 million in cap space. Saffold, who turns 34 in June, just earned his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Saffold is one of the most well-known guards in the league, starting 157 career games, fourth-most among active interior offensive linemen. Since 2017, he has appeared in the playoff spotlight each year, most notably making a Super Bowl run with the Rams in 2018 and an AFC Championship Game run with the Titans in 2019.
Now, Saffold finds himself as one of the biggest names on the free-agent guard market.
The New York Jets must ignore the flashiness of Saffold and find another direction to improve their offensive line.
Saffold was not good in 2021
Despite making the Pro Bowl, Saffold was not a very good player in 2021.
Pro Bowl appearances are an extremely misleading method of evaluating talent and impact. Oftentimes, Pro Bowls are awarded not for a player’s effort in that particular season, but as a way to make up for the player not being recognized for his worthy efforts in previous years.
Thanks to their fame increasing in those previous unrecognized years of strong play, these players put themselves on the map to earn future Pro Bowl votes even if their play doesn’t warrant it anymore.
That’s the case with Saffold. He was a Pro Bowl-caliber guard for many years with the Rams and Titans but never got the recognition he deserved. Saffold finally generated enough name recognition to get the required votes in 2021 even though his play actually began to take a steep nosedive at 33 years old.
Saffold’s pass protection was poor. The 12th-year man gave up 26 pressures on 467 pass-blocking snaps, a pressure rate of 5.57% that ranked 47th out of 68 qualified guards.
This happened even though Saffold and the Titans’ offensive line were helped immensely by Tennessee’s style of play. The Titans’ quarterbacks held the ball for an average of only 2.56 seconds, third-lowest in football.
Saffold’s adjusted pressure rate (which accounts for how long the player’s quarterbacks hold the ball) was 5.93%, ranking 53rd out of 68 qualifiers.
Pro Football Focus’ grading system was even less fond of Saffold’s pass protection, scoring him with a 44.8 pass-blocking grade that placed 61st out of 68 qualifiers.
After posting a PFF pass-blocking grade of 70+ in seven consecutive fully-healthy seasons (2012-19, excluding a 2015 season where he played 5 games), this marks the second consecutive season that Saffold’s pass protection has severely worsened. Saffold had a 56.5 pass-blocking grade in 2020, ranking 44th out of 60 qualifiers.
To Saffold’s credit, he remained a good run-blocker last year, ranking 11th at his position with a 76.1 PFF run-blocking grade. But that’s not enough to make up for his woeful pass protection, which will likely only continue to get worse.
The Jets must go younger at the guard position
The Jets have been down this road before – trying to aid the protection for their young quarterback by signing a big-name veteran. New York yanked 34-year-old Ryan Kalil out of retirement in 2019 to try and help Sam Darnold, and that went terribly.
General manager Joe Douglas has put a lot of effort into building an offensive line out of premium assets. The unit has two first-round picks (Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker) and two fairly costly free agents signed to multi-year deals (George Fant and Connor McGovern).
Douglas must finish the job.
This is no time for half-measures. Douglas has the opportunity to complete one of the most heavily-invested-into offensive lines in the NFL, taking zero shortcuts on the road to building as utopian of an environment as possible for Zach Wilson. Pursuing a has-been in this crucial offseason would be silly.
New York will have plenty of cap space in a year where the free-agent market is filled with quality guards in their prime such as James Daniels. That’s where the Jets’ attention should be focused. If they do not strike in free agency, they must find their guy early on in the draft.