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Injury analysis: Buffalo Bills G Rodger Saffold

What kind of injury concerns does Saffold bring to Buffalo?

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The Buffalo Bills kicked off the legal tampering period of free agency by signing OL Rodger Saffold to a one-year deal on Monday. The veteran lineman has been in the league since 2010 with stops with St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans.

He has appeared in 160 games over that span, starting 157 of them. Saffold comes in with a wealth of experience, playing multiple positions along the offensive line over the years. However, he also comes with a pretty hefty list of injuries, somewhat expected for a player with double-digit years in the league. Below are all the publicly reported injuries dating back to his rookie year.

Injury History

2010 St. Louis Rams

Missed zero games. Suffered an MCL sprain in OTAs shortly after being drafted, missed several weeks of offseason work. The side of the injury was not specified.

Sustained a back injury in Week 2, a tibia injury in Week 4, and a right ankle sprain in Week 10. All carried provable designations on the injury report but did not force him to miss any time.

He also suffered a shoulder injury in Week 11 that was reported as “dinged” but required an MRI. He was also probable but did not miss any games.

2011 Rams

Missed seven games. Saffold suffered a left ankle injury in Week 6 and was doubtful for Week 7, though ultimately played.

He also suffered an illness and was probable for Week 7 and in Week 10, suffered a concussion against the Cleveland Browns. He was initially declared probable but was ultimately ruled out for the Week 11 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

Prior to Week 12 while lifting, Saffold tore his pectoral muscle lifting dumbbells. The tear was severe enough that he required surgery to repair the injury, missing the remaining six games of the season. Reports did not indicate what side he tore.

Pectoralis Major

2012 Rams

Missed six games. Saffold suffered a neck injury in the season opener against the Detroit Lions that forced him out of the game. He required the use of the cart to exit the field and had a precautionary stay at the hospital before returning home.

Reports indicated that he suffered a neck sprain but, fortunately, did not miss any playing time.

Upon returning from the neck injury, he suffered a right MCL knee sprain that forced him to miss six games. It was reported as a third-degree MCL sprain. It’s unclear whether this was the same knee injured in 2010.

Saffold rounded out the year with a back injury in Week 14 against the Buffalo Bills that did not require him to miss any time.

2013 Rams

Missed four games. Saffold suffered a left dislocated shoulder that resulted in a torn labrum in the preseason opener against the Browns that knocked him out of the remainder of the preseason. He wore a shoulder harness during the season that provided some support to the area.

Example of a labrum tear

At some point, he also suffered a knee injury prior to Week 1, but he did not miss time with either injury.

However, he either aggravated the knee injury in Week 2 or suffered another MCL sprain, knocking him out of the next four games.

2014 Rams

Missed zero games. Following the 2013 season, Saffold initially signed a free-agent deal with the Oakland Raiders. However, he reportedly failed the physical due to a torn left labrum in his shoulder from the dislocated shoulder the prior season.

Reports indicated that Raiders owner Mark Davis did not like the deal due to the injury and doctors failed him as a result. Saffold returned to the Rams who signed him to a five-year deal and cleared him to play.

The left shoulder that forced him to fail his physical with the Raiders began giving him problems later in the season. He suffered a knee injury in Week 6 followed by a shoulder injury in Week 8 and again in Weeks 14-15 as he continued to wear a shoulder harness on the area for protection.

Other injures included in the preseason, he suffered a right ankle injury, knocking him out of the game but he did not miss any regular-season games.

Regrettably, Saffold suffered yet another neck injury in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings but avoided the bench and played in Week 2. He suffered a knee injury in Week 2 and Week 7, both times he was probable.

2015 Rams

Missed 11 games. In the offseason, Saffold finally got the labrum in his left shoulder repaired in January of that year in order to be ready for the regular season.

Upon coming back, Saffold injured his right shoulder in the preseason game after just four snaps. Details following the injury are scarce, but he was able to play in 100% of the snaps for the first four games of the season.

Unfortunately, his season was cut short when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder in Week 5. The injury appeared serious enough that he required surgery and was shut down and placed on injured reserve.

2016 Los Angeles Rams

Missed one game. Saffold managed to miss only one game due to a hand injury suffered in Week 12 with the exact details not known.

2017 Rams

Missed one game due to veteran rest at the end of the season. No publicly reported injuries required a game-day designation. Was named second-team All-Pro.

2018 Rams

Missed zero games. No publicly reported injuries requiring a game-day designation.

2019 Tennessee Titans

Missed zero games. Saffold was able to play three seasons where he only missed one game and no injury severe enough to deem him at least questionable. That streak ended when he suffered a concussion against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, he cleared protocol quickly enough to play in the following game.

2020 Titans

Missed one game. Saffold managed to stay healthy for a majority of the season until Week 10 when he suffered an ankle injury that cost him one game. Bad luck struck him later when he dealt with an infected toe that required a procedure to correct.

Details of the infection or procedure are not known, but to have the ability to suit up and play after a toe infection is admirable. Most other people would be limping around for a week or two complaining about the pain.

Several weeks later, Saffold dealt with an ankle injury in Week 17 that forced him to leave the game early, but he did not miss any time during the playoffs, though he was a “close call” heading into the Wild Card game.

2021 Titans

Missed two games. In Week 4, Saffold suffered a concussion against the New York Jets but did not miss any time, clearing the concussion protocol to play the next week.

During the season, the veteran offensive lineman dealt with a nagging shoulder injury that was described as a nerve injury. This caused him to fail to finish six of the 13 games and he reported numbness and tingling if he hit it a certain way.

He also dealt with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, forcing him out of the Week 16 game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Despite the missed games, Saffold was still named to the Pro Bowl roster.

He ultimately missed one game due to the shoulder injury in Week 14, but the exact details of the injury were not revealed. Considering he was dealing with numbness and tingling after hits, this makes me suspect cervical radiculopathy where a nerve in the neck is compressed, causing pain, tingling, and weakness down the arm.

There was also a possibility of it being a brachial plexus contusion. The brachial plexus is a series of nerves that branch off the cervical region of the spinal cord. They innervate all the muscles of the arm as seen below. It’s very possible he could have injured the brachial plexus when he either overstretched or was hit, causing the brief paresthesia.

Examples of brachial plexus contusions

Saffold even admitted that he just stopped everything after the season and that eliminated his problems.

Buffalo Bills Impact

Doing this injury review, I went through three phases of thought.

  • Phase 1: I recognize the name, this could be a great signing!
  • Phase 2: Have the Bills reviewed his medicals? This guy is beaten up with some rather serious injuries.
  • Phase 3: The contract length and possible money are appropriate for someone with his credentials and injury history.

I’m not crazy about signing a guy on the back end of his career with a lengthy medical history such as Saffold’s. I’m not even certain that this is the entirety of his injury history either. Several of those “injury-free” years, he likely was on the injury report that didn’t require a game-day designation. Finding that information at times can be tedious and time-consuming.

However, he is very likely a cheaper replacement than the recently released Daryl Williams. He is also a better guard and has more versatility than others in the offensive line room. Plus, he will be a frequent mainstay on the injury report as a veteran rest day as we have seen with many older players.

Looking at the major injuries: two shoulder labrum repairs, pectoral tear, three concussions, two neck sprains, several MCL injuries, multiple ankle injuries, and a host of smaller issues. At this point, I’m not even worried about what injury he may be at risk to deal with in the future. Getting through a season with his history is sufficient enough.

Labrum tears are quite common in offensive linemen and the majority of them (60%) are treated non-operatively. Saffold did have surgery later but played through both injuries at different points with a harness before going under the knife. MCL injuries are also the most commonly reported knee injury with nearly 41% of players dealing with the issue during their career.

It’s important to note that he was released prior to free agency, which means the Bills were able to do a full physical on him before signing. So that means they’re comfortable with his injury history.

Free agency is the time when the front office takes risks on injured guys but doesn’t overpay. Sometimes it works out such as with Daryl Williams, Jordan Poyer, Kevin Johnson, and Mitch Morse. Other times it fails such as with Josh Norman, Trent Murphy, or Emmanuel Sanders.

Saffold comes at a likely decent price, fresh off a Pro Bowl season, and has been relatively durable the back half of his career. This could either go the way of Daryl Williams in 2020 when he signed and played very well at tackle. Or this could be a Forrest Lamp and never Saffold never makes an impact out of the gate.

I’m not overly impressed with the signing, but I see the value in it. This is a short contact with hopefully decent money and a lot of upsides. I believe with the rehab facilities and depth of players available, this could play out well in the Bills' favor. It looks like they are looking to squeeze every last ounce of football left out of Saffold and he is looking for a championship to close out his career.