One-year deal might wind up being best for Atogwe

Will a former standout defensive player for the St. Louis Rams struggle to find work for the second consecutive year?

Veteran safety O.J. Atogwe has been on the free market for three days now and notice that no team has come racing after him with fists full of dollars. Atogwe, who had some unusual circumstances as a restricted free agent the Rams elected not to tender at a high level, has been one of the top turnover-producing safeties since he entered the league.

He might not be a Pro Bowl performer, but he’s in the upper echelon of players at the position and he’s been on a bad defense in St. Louis. Surely, he can help someone. But it looks like teams who do have potential interest – Detroit and Miami have been mentioned – are slow playing this.

It’s exactly what happened to ex-Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa a year ago. A consistent performer in St. Louis, Tinoisamoa typically was the leading tackler on defense for the Rams. He was released in early May 2009. Like Atogwe, Tinoisamoa hit the market when teams had already committed the bulk of their money in free agency. He looked for a good landing spot and wound up signing a $1.5 million, one-year contract with the Chicago Bears after making a visit to the Buffalo Bills. Tinoisamoa figured he was best off signing a one-year contract and then hitting free agency at the right time the following year. His best laid plans were short-circuited by knee surgery and he wound up back with the Bears again on another one-year deal that is a value for the team.

Could Atogwe face the same future? There are questions about his health. He suffered a separated shoulder in a December loss at Chicago that knocked him out for the remainder of the season. If there are questions about his health, that is going to make landing the kind of lucrative, longterm deal he seeks even more difficult in June.

Atogwe turns 29 later this month and at this late stage in the offseason, he could be best going the Tinoisamoa route. They key is being able to prove he’s healthy and that he can make an impact for a defense. If he can successfully do that, it could put him in position to receive the kind of pay day he is seeking, especially if he can get the team he signs with to agree not to use a franchise or transition tag on him. With labor uncertainty, every player wants security and they want it now, but it’s just not easy to find.

Atogwe has missed only eight games in the last five seasons and didn’t miss a single game from 2006 through 2008. If a market for his services doesn’t come together, he could be much better off signing a one-year contract than agreeing to terms on a club friendly multi-year deal. Stay tuned.

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