They do not view Atogwe as an elite game-changer in the secondary, however, and that is why they released him Friday.
The move spares the Rams from paying $8 million to Atogwe as part of the deal they negotiated with him last offseason. That deal paid more than $4 million to Atogwe for the 2010 season, with another $8 million due if the Rams wanted to pick up the final four years of the deal at more than $5 million per season.
The agreement allowed Atogwe to return last season for less than he earned previously as a franchise player, with an outside chance that a breakout 2010 season might entice the Rams into paying the bonus.
Atogwe hit the market last offseason and still re-signed with the Rams. That could happen again until we hear otherwise. The uncertain NFL labor situation could complicate Atogwe's efforts to attract a lucrative deal elsewhere. But by releasing Atogwe, the Rams lose all rights to him; they cannot name him their franchise or transition player.
Atogwe's situation over the past few seasons demonstrates teams' changing views toward the franchise tag.
The tag was initially intended to help NFL teams keep elite players. The salaries associated with the tag were intended to be high enough for teams to think hard before using the designation. In this case, the price associated with the tag was low enough for the Rams to use it on Atogwe out of convenience.
That distorted parameters relating to a long-term agreement. The Rams had, by definition, defined Atogwe as a franchise player, on par with the five best NFL players at his position. But the team never intended to pay Atogwe as such over the long term, and that made getting a deal done more difficult.
The hope here, at least from the Rams' perspective, should be that Atogwe understands the situation and doesn't take business personally. That can happen if the Rams have been forthright with Atogwe throughout the process. But if there's a better opportunity for Atogwe elsewhere, he owes the Rams nothing.