Clayton: Who says the Lions won't become involved? I think they could, but there's no need for them to tip their hand now. On June 1, Atogwe's restricted tender would rise to the franchise level (nearly $7 million), and it seems unlikely the Rams will keep him at that price. Like it or not, the Lions have been one of the most aggressive teams in picking up veteran players, and Atogwe would be a good, young player to acquire. I think they will be in the hunt.
Ideally, the Rams already would have signed Atogwe, one of their best defensive players, to a long-term contract reflecting his status as a very good player. Several factors have worked against that happening:
The Rams named Atogwe their franchise player last offseason, defining his value at $6.3 million. The effect was to define Atogwe as an elite safety even though Atogwe has never been to a Pro Bowl.
Atogwe's first season under the new coaching staff wasn't particularly strong and it ended poorly. A shoulder injury landed Atogwe on injured reserve. He also underwent hernia surgery.
The Rams' ownership situation remained unsettled, affecting budgetary flexibility.
The lack of a new collective bargaining agreement triggered punitive measures for the NFL and its players. Atogwe became only a restricted free agent in 2010. The Rams' primary choices were to offer him a one-year deal for $1.226 million or a one-year deal for 110 percent of his 2009 salary (more than $6.9 million).
When the Rams chose the $1.226 million level, they risked damaging their relationship with Atogwe, whose value should have been higher.
Atogwe becomes a free agent if the Rams fail to increase the $1.226 million offer into the $6.9 million range by June 1. Those extremes made it tougher to find middle ground.
The Rams still have time to reach a long-term deal with Atogwe, but the factors listed above make it tougher to establish Atogwe's value.