When the clock struck 12 in St. Louis (technically, 11:00 p.m. local time), Rams safety O.J. Atogwe became a restricted free agent with no restrictions.
Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reports the change in Atogwe’s status, which occurred due to a provision of the labor deal requiring teams to re-issue RFA tenders on June 1, and which would have required the Rams to offer Atogwe nearly $7 million in order to keep him.
The move comes as no surprise. When the Rams opted to tender Atogwe at the lowest possible level — the only level that did not allow the $1.226 million offer to be trumped by 110 percent of his 2009 franchise-player salary — it became obvious that the Rams wouldn’t be re-issuing the tender three months later, when the rules require the team to offer at least 110 percent of the prior year’s salary, regardless of the level that previously was tendered.
Per Balzer, the Rams tried throughout the day to work out a new deal with Atogwe. It’s possible that Atogwe simply wanted to hit the open market. It’s more likely that his agent had gauged the market in March and/or April, and that Atogwe knows what other teams are willing to pay.
Unless Atogwe wants much more than any team will offer, he shouldn’t be on the market for long. Indeed, by now his agent should know exactly who’s interested, and exactly what they’ll pay.
Balzer points out that potentially interested teams include the Cowboys, 49ers, Vikings, and Dolphins. The Eagles reportedly will not be pursuing Atogwe.
Of course, it’s also possible that Atogwe will find that no one else is willing to pay him as much as the Rams would pay, and that he’ll decide to stay put.
Another issue that Atogwe will face is his ability to pass a physical. He finished the 2009 season with a potentially serious shoulder injury.
Because Atogwe did not become an unrestricted free agent as currently defined by the CBA (i.e., a player with six or more years of service whose contract expired), the “Final Eight Plan” does not apply, allowing the Cowboys and the Vikings (and the Jets and the Saints) to pursue him without limitations.