O.J. Atogwe - A Gamble Worth Making

Oshiomogho Atogwe is the most attractive free safety on the market, not because of anything revolving around upside, veteran leadership, or cost effectiveness. He's the premier free safety on the market because he's head and shoulders above every other FA Safety that is out there.

With the discussions going on here, and elsewhere revolving around O.J. Atogwe, the best way to go get him, and the reasons we haven't yet I thought a nice little breakdown of what Atogwe is, his strengths and weaknesses, and the reason I think making a play now instead of waiting is the right move.

 

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.

- VanRam - Turf Show Times

First things worth, let's establish O.J. Atogwe's relative football worth compared to the rest of the league. Here is a nice little write up on his strengths and weaknesses I found from PFW.

Strengths: Daily team observers can't even fathom how good Atogwe's numbers might be in a defense unlike the Rams' that isn't so often in such predictable passing situations. Pure and simple, he is a quality playmaker with great range and sure tackling ability. He possesses the speed to say with wideouts, in addition to having a real nose for the ball in run support. Tutored by Chavous, Atogwe also has become a very serious student of the game, as well as a hard worker who has made his hands better by working overtime catching balls out of the JUGS machine on a regular basis. Atogwe also takes good care of his body and has proven to be quite durable, starting every game the past three seasons.

Weaknesses: Atogwe still will have lapses in coverage, but not nearly as many as he had his first two seasons. He sometimes has a tendency to tackle too high and occasionally can get dragged for extra yardage.

Risk Factor: Low. The numbers don't lie. Whether he remains with the Rams or not, Atogwe looks to be on a fast track toward perennial Pro Bowl consideration the rest of his career, provided he can stay healthy.

Pro Football Weekly

Alright, so let's take a closer look at what we have here. We have an Pro Bowl level playmaker that is easily the prototype of what you want out of the free safety position, great range, sure tackling, and WR level speed. Then we take a look at things away from game time, and we've got someone who does the work needed to not only stay healthy, but actually wants to become better than he already is. There is a lot to be said about a guy who is already at a Pro Bowl level, yet still puts in extra work to get better at takeaways. The downsides of having a few lapses in coverage, and a weak tackle now and then are both things that as a student of the game he should be able to improve, neither are limits on what he can do and with his work ethic it's fairly logical that he'll continue to improve in his minor lapses.

We've heard a breakdown of his pros and cons, but what about the actual stats this guy has put up? I'm going to throw some up here just for discussions sake, but keep in mind the FS position is traditionally not a huge stat position. Generally if the rest of the defense is doing a great job, the free safety is called upon to make plays much less often. So his stats may be somewhat inflated if only because the Rams D is absolutely terrible.

Season Team Tackles Interceptions Fumbles
G GS Comb Total Ast Sck SFTY PDef Int Yds Avg Lng TDs FF
2009 St. Louis Rams 12 12 74 58 16 1.0 -- 5 2 21 10.5 12 0 3
2008 St. Louis Rams 16 16 85 77 8 0.0 0 5 5 91 18.2 43 0 6
2007 St. Louis Rams 16 16 75 66 9 0.0 0 12 8 125 15.6 52T 1 0
2006 St. Louis Rams 16 16 72 63 9 1.0 -- 7 3 8 2.7 7 0 5

NFL

Everything is there but his rookie year, and at least to me this line is fairly impressive. Tackles are the main thing that gets inflated in a bad defense, as any PD/Int lines are more likely to go down than up in a bad defense. Why? Because in a bad defense it doesn't make sense to go after the only good piece of the secondary. The FF is something I find really impressive, as it speaks to an almost Tillman level of ball hawking out of the free safety position, something I'd love to see. Free Safeties are never going to hit you as hard as the strong safety, but if you can put the fear of losing that ball into them just the same, you've got a great talent on your hands.

Now that we've firmly established that Atogwe is an elite level talent, let's take a quick look at the contracts other name safeties are either currently signed to, or signed this year. I'll start off with some 2009 cap numbers, and then we'll dig down a bit on the contracts signed this year.

   Player Team Base Salary Sign Bonus Other Bonus Total Salary Cap Value

USA Today

Alright, so we're looking at the top 6 paid people at the position, and as you can see somewhere between 6 mil and 7 mil was the general idea for an elite level safety last year. Some got more guaranteed money, some where franchised, some got overpaid, but the elite were around the 6 million dollar mark. Now, underneath that mark the next six or so guys, including Antrel Rolle which is important, were making somewhere around 5 million a year. Now let's take a look at the three biggest FA/RFA that were technically on the market this year, and as close a look at the contracts as we can.

Nick Collins - GB - RFA - Signed with the Packers again at around the 3 year 23.4million mark.(Fox Sports)

Ryan Clark - PIT - FA - Signed with the Steelers again at around the 4 year 14 million mark(Post Gazette)

Antrel Rolle - AZ - FA - Signed with the New York Giants at around 5 year 37million mark with 15 guaranteed(NJ)

Now, if you take a moment and look at the link I provided for Rolle's contract the writer does a great job of comparing it with two of the elite contracts that were written before this year so we'll throw those in as well.

Bob Sanders - IND -  Five years, 37.5 Million, signed in 2007

Troy Polamalu - PIT - Four years, 30.19 Million, signed in 2007

Okay, so this gives a really good baseline of numbers to work off of when it comes the actual yearly contract that approximates what Atogwe is worth, and what he thinks he is worth. Atogwe has said via his agent that he thinks he's been among the most productive safeties in the league, possibly even better than Ed Reed, and honestly I'd be inclined to agree due to the defense he was on, and the numbers he was still able to put up. So we can easily say he's looking for top 5 money, so what would that be exactly?

Sanders and Polamalu are both floating around 7.5 mil a year, Rolle who has the most recent contract to base things off of is sitting at 7.4 mil a year. Nick Collins who was an RFA which means less of an open market clocked in at around 7.8 a year. Looking at this list, I'd say Ryan Clark isn't as good as Rolle or Collins, but it's fairly obvious he got hosed with a homedown discount at 3.5 million. Throwing his bad fortune out of the mix, and you've got Atogwe likely looking for something from 7.5 to 8 million a year.

I know, I know. That's a lot of cash, a big contract, and one of a million other things, but due to the way the cap is working this year and how bonuses can be applied immediately instead of being prorated to the cap over the life of the contract, it's very possible to hit the 8mil a year mark that would make Atogwe extremely happy, while still being cap conscience and keeping him at around 6 mil a year on a yearly basis for most of the contract. Below was my guesstimate of what a contract like that could look like.

5 years – 40 mil – 18 mil guaranteed
2010 – 1mil base – 10mil signing bonus 6 mil roster bonus
2011 – 5 mil base – 2 mil roster bonus
2012 – 6 mil base
2013 – 6 mil base
2014 – 6 mil base

You can play with the numbers a ton, and even add a bit more front loaded cash if you think we've actually got it after letting Vasher loose, but the general idea is that Atogwe is definitely a top 5 talent, and to reach that mark you're looking at eight million a year, which is about a million more than what his RFA 1-year tender would be to the Rams if they can't agree upon a deal before hand.

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Now that the numbers section of this is out of the way, here is the actual reasoning for making this deal happen and making it happen now. The Rams either have the choice of making a deal with Atogwe, signing him to the 7-ish million dollar tender, matching another teams offer that Atogwe would accept, not matching the offer, or letting him go for nothing.

Of the four options the only one that has zero chance of happening is option four, the Rams may be a struggling franchise, but you'd have to be inept on Al Davis levels to allow a star player to leave for nothing in return. That leaves us with four other possible outcomes.

Rams making a deal with Atogwe

Now then, a lot of people don't remember this situation, but it happened last year as well to a large extent. The Rams wanted to sign Atogwe to a long term deal, but his agent was driving a hard bargain and the Rams were either unable or unwilling to meet his demands, so they placed the franchise tag on him. That's while you'll see him on the list with a high salary up above. The general reports are that Atogwe wasn't very happy with the franchise tag last year, and he's even less happy with the Rams tendering him when he would have likely been a FA any other year. His unhappiness with the situation isn't exactly that important, it is however important to look at the negotiation landscape when it comes to his deal. They've essentially had two years to work out a deal and have been unable to come to terms, so there has to be a fundamental disagreement on what Atogwe is worth between Atogwe/Agent and the team. Since there is information from his agent that he thinks he's basically one of the best at his position the most likely breakdown of the situation is that Atogwe thinks he should be getting top 2-3 money, and the Rams don't want to pay it. There are definitely other reasons why the negotiations could be failing, but this seems to be the most likely. Since Atogwe's agent would likely be asking for the same thing from the Bears or any other organization that comes calling that he's asking for from the Rams, it goes a long way towards saying either the Rams just want "proof" he's worth that, or they are trying to "prove" to Atogwe he isn't worth that.

I think he is, and I definitely think he is for the Bears at this point in time. I'd be willing to go as high as 9 million a year, as long as the money was front loaded this year in guarantees so that the cap number was back to 6ish for the years that "matter".

Rams signing him to the tender.

This is pretty much guaranteed to happen if there isn't an offer on the table because after the money Rolle and Collins received no agent worth anything is going to allow his client to get Ryan Clark'd, and the Rams aren't going to lose something they could easily keep for  just a slight bump from what they paid last year. If this happens, a sign and trade as I understand could still technically be possible, but logic says that unless they are looking for linebackers or Daniel Manning we don't have a lot to offer/spare.

Rams matching an offer from another team.

As I mentioned earlier, this is entirely possible if the Rams are simply looking for proof that Atogwe is worth what he thinks he is worth. However, in the NFL usually teams don't completely change their view on worth based on what other teams think. So if the deal that gets offered to Atogwe is something exactly like what the Rams haven't agreed to in two years, it's not very likely that they'll have an immediate change of heart and match it on the spot. If however, it's anything "negotiated" lower than what had been his agents current offer to the team, it's very likely they'd take the opportunity to match if accepted.

Another problem with this idea is that there really isn't a lot of teams still in the market for a FS, a lot of the teams looking after either resigned their guy(PIT/GB), signed someone else(NYG), or seem to be looking at the draft. The three main teams that could possible have interest still would be...

Cowboys/Dolphins/Bears

I'd like to take just a second to thank T-Train for bringing up Jones and the Cowboys yesterday as it gave me a chance to do a bit of research on the Cowboys and I dug up an article over at PFT.

"That's always a concern and that's one of the things that needs to be addressed in the new collective bargaining agreement," Jones said Tuesday, per Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News. "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."

Then again, 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.

- PFT

The article also mentions that RFA market is usually fairly dull no matter what anyway, but it does have a kernel of truth. It seems like Jones may not want to wade into the minefield he sees RFA as being, specially if he has the picks to grab a good FS in the draft, of which there are more than a few that should be there in the last first or late second round. This may also explain the somewhat lack of interest in Atogwe from the league as a whole.

The Dolphins are still in the game as well though, and had expressed interest if they were unable to sign Rolle, the only problem I see is that if they were unwilling to sign Rolle for the money Rolle was signed for and they let Clark go without signing him to a contract paying more than 3.5mil, it doesn't seem likely that they'd be willing to show Atogwe the money on what is still a rebuilding team in many respects.

That pretty much leaves the Bears as one of the only big market teams that has money, cap room after this year, need at the FS position, and a preexisting positive history with the Rams. This is what brings me to the next section.

Rams declining to match an offer.

It's entirely possible that if an offer is made to Atogwe that the Rams will match it, and get the long term deal they were looking for. However, there is essentially one way that the Rams don't match it and that's if the deal is too rich for their blood, or more than they valued Atogwe at. It's not as simple as just driving a truck of money though, as our existing relationship with the Rams actually makes this a much more likely scenario. There are no rules against the Rams saying to us, "We're going to match your offer unless you give us Manning and Hunter Hillenmeyer", or Manning and Williams, or Manning, Dez, Williams, or any combination of players we have available for trade. So while they might not be willing to pay Atogwe that kind of money, they may be able to essentially bluff their way into some players, basically the equivalent of a sign and trade.

Even if we think that may be possible, it still requires us to offer a contract they don't really want to match though which is what brings me in the most round about way possible to my main point.

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O.J. Atogwe is worth making the gamble on, specially when all we're really gambling with is a bit of wasted time on the part of our contract negotiators. The worst case scenario is that we don't get to sign him, it doesn't exactly matter if it's because they matched our deal, or they signed him to the tender. Either way, we've lost the player we should be gunning for. However, if we make the play for him now we've at least got a fighting chance of either making that deal, or them simply not matching the offer. I don't know about everyone else, but I'd much rather be able to say we tried, than we just let him sign the tender.

What does everyone else think? Is Atogwe worth the gamble of whether or not the Rams would match? What yearly value do you place on Atogwe, and how good do you think he really is?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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