I'm trying to make sense of the St. Louis Rams decision to make the lowest possible RFA tender offer - the first right of refusal - to FS O.J. Atogwe. He's been one of the Rams few defensive highlights over the last three seasons.
The first thing that comes to mind is the Rams poor decision making in regards to contracts in the recent past, but they've improved by leaps and bounds since Devaney came to town and brought Kevin Demoff in as the VP of Football Operations, aka the contract guru. So what gives with this report that they'll only make Atogwe the lowest FA offer?
It's worth noting that they're also believed to be in talks for a long-term contract, which indicates to me that maybe this isn't a bad faith thing so much as it is doing right by the player. The Rams and Atogwe failed to reach a deal last year, and the Rams used the franchise tag to keep him on the roster. Atogwe was supposed to be an unrestricted free agent this year, getting the opportunity to sign what would probably be the biggest contract of his career. Is it a naive read of this situation to think that if the Rams and Atogwe don't reach a deal they'll use the "lowball" matching rights offer in order to let him still taste the free agent waters? There's the chance he'll get a deal the Rams feel confident matching, in essence letting another team do the contract negotiations if the Rams can't get something worked out in time.
That would certainly be a good faith move to Atogwe, and maybe make him more apt to consider offers the Rams are making in contract talks, rather than create more bad blood by just slapping him with a high tender and making sure he doesn't get to test the market at all.
Of course, the puzzling thing about this is that it doesn't seem like a great business decision by the Rams. They have the power to retain Atogwe with an RFA tender, and if he refused to sign it, he'd have to sit out the season. However, if the use a tag, they could then try and trade him, and more than one team would certainly be interested...unless, they think the odds are too great that they won't get the kind of offer they want for Atogwe.
That the Rams are working on a long-term deal with S Craig Dahl could be telling as well. Dahl, as the primary backup safety did a pretty solid job last year, and the Spagnuolo has one of his core players on the team with SS James Butler. Perhaps they feel safety isn't as a high of a priority as a pass rusher, OLB and another CB, making Atogwe somewhat expendable.
UPDATE: The lowest RFA tender DOES NOT mean that the Rams will pay Atogwe at the lowest level (i.e. the sub-$2 million paycheck for one season) should they retain him as a free agent. For the period of March 5 through May 31, they have the right to match whatever offer another team makes. If there are no takers, and no matching offer, the Rams can keep Atogwe, but have to pay him the bump from his previous year's salary...or let him go as a free agent. That kind of makes you wonder if teams could potentially wait, thinking the Rams won't pay Togs the $7 million they'd have to if they don't get a contract done. Anyway...here's the RFA info from Pro Football Talk:
As a league source explains it, and as we've confirmed by reviewing the CBA (Article XIX, section (i)(1)), the tender applies only until June 1. At that point, the team must offer the greater of the prior tender or 110 percent of the player's 2009 salary. Otherwise, the player becomes a free agent.
So what this means is that, for a player like Atogwe, the Rams' window of opportunity would apply from March 5 until May 31. At that point, they'd have to decide whether to give Atogwe nearly $7 million -- or let him go.
As a result, the lowest-level tender has a specific shelf life when applied to a guy who made huge money in the prior year. And if means that, if Atogwe doesn't get a long-term deal by the end of May, he'll get a crack at one in June, since the Rams will most likely let him walk in lieu of offering him the kind of contract they're apparently not willing to offer him now.