Why I Like The Signing?
Atogwe complements this team quite well. One of his best assets is his health. Atogwe missed four games in 2009, but other than that, he's pretty much been a full time starter since 2006 who hasn't otherwise missed a game due to injury. That should limit some concern about his age (30).
He's also a passive player of sorts, which normally isn't a great quality in a defensive player, but on this team of players who are overaggressive pursuit players who run to the football, Atogwe actually fills a big need as a player who will stay over the top of plays and not break on every route he reads. There's pretty much every other player on the defense to do that, lone exception is DeAngelo Hall.
The need Atogwe fills means that there will be one less hole if Carlos Rogers walks in free agency, whenever there is free agency. It's a big need. The operative plan in 2010 was that Kareem Moore could develop into a starting NFL free safety, but clearly, Moore is not an NFL level player. Once you realize that a major piece of your rebuilding plan is unreliable, you know that it's time to go outside the organization to get help. That's what the Redskins did here with Atogwe.
Then there is the contract. It's frontloaded, with a $7.5+ million cap number in 2011, and essentially no signing bonus (some 2012 salary is guarenteed for injury), which means the contract is pretty much for one year, and then it's four one year contract options between $3-$4 million per year. Which means: you're stuck with him for this season no matter what, but after the 2011 season, the Redskins will have Atogwe as long as he's productive. If he has a London Fletcher type end of career, you could see him as the starting FS of the B&G in 2015 at age 34. At that point, he will have been well underpaid as a Redskins FA signing, which tells you how good the contract has the potential to be. That's just Bruce Allen working his magic.
Why I Do Not Like the Signing?
Atogwe will have the free safety job in Washington as long as he is healthy and productive. However, this could be a case of the Redskins misunderstanding the value of a player. While Atogwe doesn't seem like a terrible risk, there may not be any upside. Atogwe has never been very productive at the NFL level, and I think that when people look at a player who was St. Louis' Franchise player just a year ago, they see a guy who is still playing at a high level. I don't think Atogwe really fits the bill.
The instant comparision to make is to compare Atogwe to London Fletcher or Marcus Washington when they signed. Both players filled obvious need, and Gregg Williams already knew how to use the players when they were brought in. The idea is that something similar is happening with Jim Haslett, who coached Atogwe with St. Louis, first as the defensive coordinator, then later as the head coach of the Rams.
On top of that, if we're going to defend Atogwe as being a complementary -- or different -- kind of player in the defense, then we also need to point out how this signing shows the lack of a defensive identity. Sure, the Redskins haven't enjoyed great success with an aggressive, hard-hitting defense that makes mistakes in coverage and struggles when the pass rush doesn't reach the quarterback, but the players of that "knock them around" mentality still litter the roster. Now, here comes Atogwe who most definately does NOT fit into that mold of the established Redskins defense. Maybe that's good, maybe it's bad, but its definately not nothing.
Atogwe enters a defense that really doesn't have a clue how to comprehend a route combination or break on a receiver. Maybe he has a few veteran tips to pass onto his teammates, but more likely, he'll spend a year in 2011 running around trying to accomplish his assignment and everyone elses as he goes from a defense with a heavy aura of discipline to a defense where coverage and open field mistakes are far more common.
The only familiarity Atogwe will find in Washington is that Jim Haslett is the man calling the plays. After the 2011 season, there will be much blame taking to be certain if the team's record doesn't take a significant step forward. And like I mentioned above, Atogwe will be very releaseable, particularly if Haslett is not retained. And so while this deal has plenty of upside built into it, the way it is structured makes a one-and-done so much more likely for O.J. Atogwe and the Washington Redskins.
Atogwe is not a culture changing player, he's a need filler on a team that needs bigger chances. Does that make him a wasted signing? Of course not. He's a complementary part, the exact proven purpose of free agency in the NFL. He was signed to play a specific role in this defense, a role where no other player on the roster would have succeeded. But his legacy here is tied, overall, to the success of the defensive unit with him in it. And while adding Atogwe raises the probability of an improved defense, it also means there will be a low correlation between how he plays and how his play is perceived.
That comes with the territory as a free agent signing of the Washignton Redskins, which Atogwe may or may not understand. There's no such thing as signing into a good situation with the Redskins. The money isn't great, and his tenure is likely to be short. For the team, this is a good move. It gives them a chance in pass coverage they may not have had through their limited means in the draft. But at the end of the 2011 season, theres a good chance the team and its pass defense will be right where it started. And that Atogwe's year with the Redskins went pretty much according to script.
And if you're familiar with the script, you already understand why that could be bitter and disappointing.