We've been here before. Earlier today, with Bob Sanders, and last offseason with this same Mr. Atogwe. O.J. Atogwe was eventually franchised by the Rams (where he's served as the defensive equivalent of Steven Jackson for six seasons) and then signed to a five-year deal.
The funny thing about that deal was that after one-year O.J. could've voided it (but did not). However, three days before he's due an astounding $8 million bonus for being on the Rams roster....the team has released him instead of paying. The contract, in a nutshell, was "Give us another Pro Bowl-like season, and we'll pay you like a Pro Bowler". Well, he gave them 73 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 9 defended passes, 3 interceptions and 2 sacks....and they decided that they still didn't want to pay him.
Last year I said something to the effect of "There's no chance in hell the Chargers go after Atogwe, he's too expensive." He was then, and still is, the best free agent Safety on the market. However, I'm starting to feel differently about his chances of landing in San Diego.
Three things were made abundantly clear this season:
- Quentin Jammer and Eric Weddle still cannot catch the ball. Many interceptions have been lost this way.
- The defense absolutely needs a playmaker that will create, and capitalize on, turnover opportunities that swing the momentum of the game in favor of the Chargers.
- For as good as he is at finding Wide Receivers and Linemen out of the rubble of the undrafted free agent pile, A.J. Smith's biggest flaw as a GM might be his inability to scout/draft a Strong Safety. It's been an issue since the days of John Butler.
So, as much as they may have to overpay to get him, Atogwe fills each of these needs....and, unlike Bob Sanders, he's incredibly reliable (playing at least 15 games in 4 out his 5 seasons as a starter). His ability to create turnovers cannot be denied (21 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles over 5 seasons), and his hands have never been questioned.
There are four big differences between Sanders and Atogwe as free agent Safety choices.
- Atogwe would be more expensive and would want a longer contract, even though he's only 4 months younger than Sanders (who is 30). Darrell Stuckey would essentially be relegated as a backup permanently.
- Atogwe is most consistent, but has never been Defensive Player of the Year and has never lead a defense to a Super Bowl Championship.
- Atogwe is a Free Safety, meaning Eric Weddle would slide over to become the Strong Safety. It's been said repeatedly that Weddle can play either Safety position, at least in Ron Rivera's defense. The difference between the two spots in Manusky's defense? I haven't a clue.
- As I mentioned in the Sanders article, his height is a concern. It's possibly a reason he cannot stay healthy. You will not find many 5'8" Safeties in the league, mostly because if they were ever asked to cover a Tight End they'd be pretty screwed. Atogwe is 5'11" (as is Weddle, even though they list him at 6'0"), so covering Tight Ends would be a little easier.
So now, new poll! Please keep in mind when you're voting that the money on these selections are by no means equal, and how they effect the team salary as a whole should be factored in.
Who should the Chargers have as their starting Safeties in 2011?
Weddle/Sanders (156 votes)
Atogwe/Weddle (642 votes)
Weddle/Gregory (63 votes)
Weddle/Stuckey (105 votes)
Weddle/rookie (57 votes)
1023 total votes