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Thursday, March 3, 2011
Oshiomogho Atogwe's unfortunate exit

By Mike Sando

Oshiomogho Atogwe's contract agreement with the Washington Redskins, reported by Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, leaves the St. Louis Rams weaker in the secondary.

That is the bottom line.

ESPN's Adam Schefter says the deal is for five years and $26 million. It's unclear how the contract is structured. Atogwe's previous deal with the Rams wound up paying him $4 million. His new deal surely represents an upgrade even though players often don't see all the money in a long-term deal.

Unusual and unfortunate circumstances negatively affected negotiations between the Rams and Atogwe. The team named him its franchise player following the 2008 season. Atogwe played the 2009 season under terms of the one-year, $6.34 million franchise offer. He became only a restricted free agent following the 2009 season, however, as the labor agreement upped requirements for unrestricted free agency in an uncapped year.

This was an unfortunate step backward for Atogwe.

The Rams took advantage of the RFA designation by making the lowest possible offer. Rules required them to up that $1.226 million offer to $7 million or let Atogwe become a free agent last June. The Rams opted to let Atogwe become a free agent. They liked him, but not at the $7 million price. The timing made it tougher for Atogwe to find a suitable deal. He re-signed with the Rams.

At the time, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thought Atogwe would have been better off joining a superior defense elsewhere on a one-year deal and re-marketing himself. Instead, Atogwe came back to the Rams and played well at times, but he did not stand out.

Atogwe has built a reputation for forcing turnovers, but his production in that area has fallen off even while the Rams have improved on defense. He had three interceptions in 2010 and two the previous season after collecting 13 in 2007 and 2008. Jim Haslett, the Rams' defensive coordinator during Atogwe's ball-hawking years, is coordinating the Redskins' defense. Perhaps Atogwe will fit better there.

I think the Rams would have liked to have brought back Atogwe, but they never valued him as a sideline-to-sideline force. They never valued him the way the franchise designation said they valued him. For them, the tag was a convenient way to keep him for a year, not a sign they valued him at that price over a long-term deal. Throw in the unusual RFA situation last offseason and this negotiation wasn't as easy as it should have been.

The Rams will miss Atogwe, but their fans should be happy for him, too. Atogwe handled himself more professionally than I can recall another player handling himself under the circumstances. He practiced with the team as a franchise player even though he hadn't signed the $6.34 million tender. He was a team player all the way.