Last year, it was Steven Jackson. The year before, Marc Bulger. This year, we're keeping an eye on the contract situation of Rams FS OJ Atogwe. For the ballhawking safety, the situation is a little different. The Rams used the franchise tag to retain Atogwe's services, with the intention of negotiating a long term contract in the very near future. OJ, however, has yet to sign the franchise offer - though he is practicing, not holding out - waiting to see what the Rams commitment to him is. For more on Atogwe's situation, see this post from last week.
Anyway, I bring this up because I thought about Atogwe's situation as a restricted free agent last season and noticed two items of interest in this situation. Last year, when he was a restricted free agent, the Rams made him an offer at the first round level, not the highest RFA tender level (that's a 1st & 3rd round), in February. He didn't sign that offer until June of '08, but did go through minicamp and OTAs with the team. Precedent? Would help us breath a little easier if Atogwe was just late getting things signed, but it's obvious that's not a factor in his situation with the franchise offer.
Last year's situation with Atogwe does help explain why he's so adamant to get a long term deal done. If he and the team don't come to terms on a long term deal this year, he'll be forced to go through restricted free agency again next season, where he'd earn less money even at the highest offer than he would this season under the franchise tag. This season, the highest tender for RFAs paid the player $2.79 million; Atogwe would get $6.3 million as a franchised safety.
In short: Atogwe wants a long term deal because thanks to the wacky CBA-less NFL rules, he won't reach free agency until his age-30 season (2011), missing out on the years when players of his level get their biggest contracts. You can understand why he wants to get something done.
What got me thinking about the Atogwe situation again was this article at Football Outsiders looking at the not-so-simple contracts for 3rd through 7th round draft picks. The Rams, the piece points out, have historically been one of several team in the league that gave second day draft picks three-year contracts instead of four-year contracts as a rule. In part that was done to minimize risk and save money...there's a comment or two to made here about the fabulous success of the Zygmunt/Shaw Era of Rams drafts. Now, new GM Billy Devaney has made Kevin Demoff his cap man, and Demoff has always been a four-year contract guy when it comes to second day draft picks. Will that change? We'll know the answer to that real soon. I'll leave it to you to read the piece and learn why it matters.