This article appeared in the Miami Herald within the last few days. It speculated that Atogwe could become a free agent on June 1st. The theory is that the Rams are hoping that someone will sign him to a reasonable offer sheet that they can match. If they don't they will have to pay him near $7M for one season, which they dont want to do. Apparently, other teams have caught on to this, and are waiting it out.
This would make sense as to why they put such a low tender on him, which didnt make a lot of sense at first. It also might have been one of the potnetial "opportunities later in Free Agency" that Jerry has referenced. I'm on record saying if we got him and no one else, I would be happy with our free agency. If Dallas doesnt get a free safety in the draft, I would expect us to go after him hard. This gives us some more options and flexibility.
Do you like Safety O.J. Atogwe? Get in line. And wait until June 1.
A month after the start of free agency, the Dolphins and several other NFL teams have yet to address a glaring need at free safety. Oh, sure, Miami tried. But Ryan Clark re-signed with Pittsburgh, leaving this team with the same question as the rest.
Why not O.J. Atogwe?
Atogwe, as you already know, is a restricted free agent tendered by the Rams at the lowest possible level. He's a solid player, and he wouldn't even require any draft-pick compensation like other expensive RFAs, such as Indianapiolis’ Antoine Bethea.
Yet for whatever reason, teams like Miami are avoiding him as if he’s got a case of the Swine Flu and a Staph Infection all at the same time. That reason, as apparently needs to be reminded to many Dolphins fans still clamoring for Atogwe, is a bit complicated.
The short version can be summed up with a one-sentence quote from one of my league sources: “Many teams know that his (Right of First Refusal) is likely to go away on June 1, so some teams have said they don’t want to do a deal that Rams would match.”
Basically, Atogwe has the potential to become an unrestricted free agent on June 1.
Now, for the more in-depth explanation: The Rams are currently trying to reach a long-term deal with Atogwe. Those negotiations aren’t likely to intensify until sometime between April 15 (the deadline for teams to submit offer sheets on restricted free agents) and May 31 (the last day for teams with RFAs to offer acceptable tenders).
But there’s a catch. If the Rams can’t reach a long-term deal, and they want to keep Atogwe, they’ll have to give him an acceptable tender that pays him 110 percent of his 2009 salary with all of the same conditions as the previous contract.
Since he had a $6.3 million guaranteed salary last season, that means the Rams would once again need to guarantee him $6.93 million – an excessive cost that can be avoided by a long-term deal.
So when April 15 hits, the pressure will be on the Rams to reach a new deal within 45 days or else Atogwe will become an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with any other NFL team, including the Dolphins.
For that reason, no teams are interested in providing Atogwe with an offer sheet, since that would allow the Rams to simply end their need to negotiate with Atogwe because they could simply impose their right of first refusal and match that offer.
Instead, teams can force the Rams’ hand by making them pony up an acceptable long-term deal or suffer the potential consequences.
From my perspective, I would imagine Atogwe would be very reluctant to finish a deal with the Rams, especially since he maintains a considerable amount of leverage in the current situation.
His options, at this point, seem pretty good. He can (a) Wait to see if the Rams fold and decide to pay him a healthy $6.93 next season, or (b) Test free agency and force the Rams into a bidding war over his services with other teams.
Of course, there is one risk. If many teams, including the Rams, are able to address their need for a free safety during the draft, Atogwe’s leverage could become diluted. So expect some talks to heat up between April 15 and April 22.
If nothing gets done during those dates, expect Atogwe to become a hot name for any remaining teams still looking for an answer at the position.
[UPDATE: In reference to the possibility of a team applying a poison pill to obtain Atogwe's services, I was given this explanation from a source: "No team will say it, but it appears that a poison pill is something that teams aren't willing to do. I believe that's one of the things the owners want to eliminate in a new CBA, so I think there's real reluctance to go "outside the box" on this issue. I'm not saying no one will do it, but it doesn't appear likely right now."]