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More thinking on the Rams gamble with Atogwe

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Everyone knew that the St. Louis Rams’ offer to RFA Oshiomogho Atogwe at the lowest, first right of refusal level would likely result in another team making him an offer. No team has presented Atogwe with an offer yet, but he is officially on one team’s radar: the Dallas Cowboys.

If the Cowboys, or any other team, make Atogwe an offer, the Rams have the right to match it and retain the services of the free safety or decline the opportunity to match it and let him walk…for no compensation.

Therein lies the rub. Because Atogwe is a fifth-year player, the RFA rules of the no-cap year treated him a bit differently, mandating that any other RFA offer would have paid him $6.9 million, 110 percent of the salary he received last year playing under the team’s franchise tag.

Probably, the thinking inside Rams Park was that they did not want to pay Atogwe almost $7 million, remarkably high for a safety who is good but hardly a game changer. Using the lowest tender gives the Rams a window to work out a long-term deal with the safety – with no offer by June 1, they have to either pay him the $6.9 million or let him walk. It also gives other teams the chance to talk with Atogwe, testing the market so to speak.

Of course, the Rams risk losing Atogwe by going this route because another team could insert a so-called "poison pill" into an offer, making it all but impossible for the Rams to match. That seems very unlikely to happen, and I bet the farm that GM Billy Devaney and VP Kevin Demoff gambled wisely on that probability in their decision to go this route with Atogwe.

Why is a poison pill unlikely? The owners hate it and have unofficially conspired not to use it in the wake of the Steve Hutcheson drama in 2006. That was the last time such an offer was used, to the great chagrin of the players union.

Now, the first paragraph about the Cowboys being interested scares lots of people because they’ve got money to play with. However, Jerry Jones is frightened of the poison pill, and even spoke out about the need to address the issue in the next CBA. So sayeth Jerry Jones:

Those are called unintended consequences there. What turns into trying to be competitive among clubs and what turns into trying to be fair for a player turns into being a disadvantage for the clubs.

According to the link at PFT, Jones feels vulnerable because the Cowboys could lose WR Miles Austin via that route. In fact, there’s speculation that his comments could shut down the RFA market entirely, a market that very rarely has much activity anyway. From PFT:

…the hidden genius of Jones' remarks could be that he possibly has foreclosed teams from choosing to sign any restricted free agents to offer sheets, since his comments arguably now compel use of the poison pill. Though the union can still cry collusion if no RFAs are pursued, it will be very easy for teams to argue that they prefer not to sacrifice draft picks in what many regard as the deepest pool of incoming talent in years.

Anyway, long story short, I don’t think you have to worry about any team using the poison pill to nab Atogwe, especially since he’s not enough of a difference maker to merit owners going that dangerous route. Now, some other team could very well make him an offer still, but it’s unlikely that he’ll get a deal that would pay him. Don’t believe it still? The Steelers resigned FS Ryan Clark to a four-year, $14 million deal with $5 million guaranteed and a $3 million signing bonus. I wouldn’t be surprised if Atogwe got a deal like that eventually.

Bottom line: O.J. Atogwe is not going to get $6.9 million per year, not from the Rams and not from any other team, and the Rams still have a good chance of hanging onto Atogwe. The Rams made a move that looks like a head-scratcher, but was a pretty smart calculation/gamble.