February 21, 2011

Have The Redskins Learned How To Be Smart In Free Agency?

It was only a matter of time before the Redskins figured out free agency. After all, they've had since 1993 to master the art.

If the developing OJ Atogwe story is an indication of how savvy Bruce Allen can be, then I'm sold. Allen wasn't aware Atogwe would be cut a year after signing another contract with the Rams, but the simple fact that he passed on the free safety when the asking price was too high speaks volumes to a cautious approach in free agency.

In 2010, the Rams let Atogwe test the free agent market for three weeks in June after declining to sign him to a one-year tender. However, he chose to sign a five-year, $31.6 million deal with St. Louis after talking with several other teams. The contract promised him an $8 million roster bonus this offseason, prompting the Rams to part ways with him last week.

Last offseason, Mike Shanahan deflected questions from reporters trying to gauge his interest in Atogwe before the latter signed with the Rams.

"We're always interested in upgrading our football team, and if it helped us with the right situation and the price was right, and somebody is available, we're always going to look into it," he said. "We do have some depth at certain positions and we've got some pretty good players at certain positions. You've got to take a look at the value of the player, how much money, draft choices. There's so many factors involved. We'll do what we can to help our football team improve, but look at the economics as well as the strength of the position."

We'll never know for sure if the Redskins took a look at Atogwe in 2010, but the point is they passed on an expensive free agent and now have the opportunity to sign him to a more cost-effective deal. Call it patience; call it good fortune; I don't care. The days of rabid spending are over.

Bruce Allen wasn't hired to make football decisions so much as he was brought in to adopt a policy of fiscal responsibility in the front office. He's a numbers guy and thus far, he's avoided any huge financial commitments to underachieving, aging players.

He will probably back out of the Donovan McNabb deal and the higher profile signings of Willie Parker and Larry Johnson didn't take much from the coffers (Parker's deal had a max of $3.1 million and Johnson's base salary was a little over $1 million per year). The Redskins took a gamble on the pair of older running backs and though it backfired, there was little to no financial strain in signing them.

Unlike Johnson and Parker, Atogwe still has plenty left in the tank. He will be 30 in June, but a ballhawking free safety doesn't experience the same wear and tear a running back endures. Brian Dawkins was 30 in 2003 and that didn't stop him from making the Pro Bowl five more times. Darren Sharper has 18 interceptions in five seasons after turning 30 as well.

Atogwe also played for Jim Haslett when the current Redskins defensive coordinator was with the Rams from 2006-08 both as a defensive coordinator and an interim head coach in 2008. During those three seasons, Atogwe had 232 tackles 16 interceptions, and 11 forced fumbles under Haslett.

His release has generated some interest around the league and he met with Washington on Monday, paying a visit to what will likely be his most active suitor. The Redskins need a a free safety to complement LaRon Landry and Atogwe fits the bill.

Speaking of bills, Allen lived up to his reputation and saved Washington a pile of them because he knows good things come to those who wait. Atogwe might not end up a Redskin, but Allen's restraint in this situation is a display of what solid decision-making can do.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Atogwe actually arrived Monday night per Mike Jones and is visiting with the team today.

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