Atogwe hits the street as an unrestricted free agent

After playing a game of chicken for three months, the staredown ended and O.J. Atogwe is now an unrestricted free agent.

The St. Louis Rams were unable to hammer out a longterm contract extension for the veteran safety and in the end, just as in the beginning, the organization made the decision not to pay Atogwe $6.976 million this season, an increase of 10 percent over his salary a year ago.

The Rams had tendered Atogwe, a restricted free agent, at the lowest possible level, giving them only the right of first refusal on an offer sheet. None came for Atogwe and when June 1 arrived, the Rams either had to re-tender him at nearly $7 million for 2010 or watch him head into the market as an unrestricted free agent.

The timing is hardly ideal as most teams have committed their budgets for the coming season. But rumors swirl that Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Minnesota and San Francisco could be interested. If Atogwe can generate multiple bidders, he’ll maximize his price.

St. Louis negotiated with agent Ken Landphere but could not come up with a deal and this close to being unrestricted, it would have been foolish for Atogwe to sign a deal without at least exploring the market. However, Landphere should have an idea what could be out there for his client. Perhaps they will be inclined to allow the Rams to match an offer, or maybe Atogwe, who will be 29 this season, wants to get out of an organization mired in a deep rebuilding process and plans to head into this season with a rookie quarterback.

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