Oshiomo-gone: Atogwe Takes His Talents East

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The Redskins certainly did pay a pure premium to bring in their new O.J. Oh come on, nothing? Not one single laugh? Man, tough crowd.
You know, I had actually been considering not writing about Oshiomogho Atogwe's contract situation yesterday. I thought to myself, "Y'know Aaron, maybe you should wait until the lockout deadline actually passes, then write about Atogwe still being in limbo." 

Then, of course, the angel on my other shoulder (I have angels on both shoulders, for your information, 'cause I'm just that wonderful a human being), said to me, "No, Aaron. That's a terrible idea. What if something happens with O.J. today? Then your whole premise is thrown right out the window."

Now I have to come up with a thank-you gift for a guardian angel who may or may not be a symptom of creeping mental illness. What does one buy for such an entity? 

In case you hadn't heard, Oshiomogho Atogwe, late of the St. Louis Rams, signed a five-year, $26 million deal with the Washington Redskins yesterday, getting that long-term security which eluded him here and bringing to an end the tenure of one of the Rams' most productive defensive players in recent years. 

I have to say, my first feeling here was disappointment. After all, Atogwe was one of the Rams' better defensive players last year, and has been a solid contributor for a long time now. When you're trying to build a special team, you don't let good players get away unless you have a pretty damned good idea of how you're going to fill the hole they leave. I'm not at all sure the Rams have such a plan, and replacing Atogwe's contributions is going to be a tall order. 

But then, when the details of the contract came out (specifically the length of the deal), and I really got to thinking more about it, I think I'm kind of okay with this. 

See, the thing is, as good as O.J. Atogwe had been in the past for the Rams, he had two things working against him. One was a defensive scheme which didn't fit his talents nearly as well as the previous one did, and two is good old Father Time. And let me tell you something, that guy is a total dick. He just never gives you a break. 

In going to Washington, Atogwe will be reunited with Jim Haslett, the Redskins' current defensive coordinator who held the same position with the Rams during O.J.'s best seasons. Haslett's system is a perfect fit for Atogwe; Haslett runs an offense geared heavily toward generating turnovers and greatly benefits freelancing in the pursuit of the ball. Atogwe has always been a brilliant ball hawk, capable of picking off passes at an astounding rate when free to play his own brand of center field. 

Steve Spagnuolo's system, on the other hand, is geared toward stopping the opposing defense, rather than espousing a 'bend-but-don't-break' mentality and going for big plays. The Rams' current defensive scheme requires discipline above all else, in terms of gap responsibilities and staying home on the play. In such a system, freelancing is not productive. 

As good as Atogwe was at generating turnovers during the Haslett years, he's never been strong in run support, where too many times he can clearly be seen covering the wrong gap or being caught out of position. He's also much better playing a deep cover spot -- which again allows him to play the ball -- than he is playing up closer to the line. That's not to say he's not a very good and very useful player, just that there are some definite limits to Atogwe's game. 

The other issue, that of age, is much simpler. Atogwe was an elite player a few years back, but he's lost a step. He'll be 30 years old by the time the 2011 season starts. (Whenever that is.) O.J. isn't getting any younger, and while you appreciate his contributions and the player he's been for the Rams, there's an old axiom you hear a lot in football: "Better to get rid of a guy one year too early than one year too late." I don't know that Atogwe's expiration date is quite so pressing (he's not a running back, after all, who may as well come printed with a use-by date listing their 29th birthday), but I don't think there's any way you want to be paying him big money when he's 34 or 35 years old. Since it seems fairly clear O.J. was set on getting as long a contract as possible (for which I certainly don't blame him), the Rams may just not have felt signing him to a deal anywhere near Washington's offer would be prudent. And honestly, it's hard to argue with that. 

In the end, I understand why things worked out the way they did with Atogwe, and I'm not too terribly upset by it. A little disappointed, still, that one of the Rams' real strengths just turned into a weakness, but I would be much more disappointed if they had signed O.J. to the contract he got from the Redskins. I wish him well, and hope he doesn't turn out like the last former Ram safety the Redskins overpaid (Adam Archuleta, ladies and gentlemen!), but seeing him move on to greener pastures certainly isn't the end of the world. 

I will say this, though: the Rams had better come up with a suitable solution to replace Atogwe's production. Billy Devaney himself has commented he is "drooling" to draft a certain defensive back in the second round; given the willingness to let Atogwe walk I have to think there's a pretty good chance it's a safety. (The most likely candidate seems to be Robert Sands out of West Virginia, who I will admit is at least moderately awesome.) If not, we're left with a very weak free agent class that, due to the CBA issues, is almost completely up in the air at this point, or an internal option. Neither one fills me with a ton of confidence. 

So I'll go along with this for now and swallow my disappointment. After all, Devaney and Spagnuolo have done yeoman's work in getting this team pointed in the right direction. It wouldn't take much to turn me against this move in a big way, but right this minute I feel pretty okay. 

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