Posted: 8:59 am Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

3 reasons why the Dolphins should sign O.J. Atogwe …. and 4 why they shouldn’t 

By Post Staff

The Dolphins need help at safety, but is O.J. Atogwe the answer? / AP

The Dolphins need help at safety, but is O.J. Atogwe the answer? / AP

Rams safety Oshiomogho “O.J.” Atogwe became an unrestricted free agent at midnight last night when he didn’t sign his one-year, $6.976 million free agent tender with the club, per the terms of his old contract.

The Dolphins haven’t officially been linked to the sixth-year player through media reports, but they are widely believed to be among the handful teams that would bid for his services, including the 49ers, Cowboys, Vikings and, yes, Rams.

Should the Dolphins make a run at Atogwe? Let’s break it down.

3 REASONS WHY THEY SHOULD SIGN ATOGWE

1. Depth
A sexy pick to win the AFC East (Peter King picked Miami as the sixth-best team in the NFL), the Dolphins could have a championship-caliber defense in 2010, stacked two deep at every position – except free safety. Second-year player Chris Clemons, a former fifth-round pick who had all of 13 tackles last year, would likely start if the season started today. His backups would be a handful of rookies (Reshad Jones, Jonathan Amaya) and a journeyman (Tyrone Culver). And heaven help the Dolphins if Yeremiah Bell gets injured, leaving them perilously thin at both safety spots. The Dolphins already struck out on free agents Antrel Rolle and Ryan Clark, but Atogwe could be the piece that pushes the Dolphins from a good defense to a great defense.

2. He’s a ballhawk, a stud athlete and pretty smart
Atogwe, a 2005 third-round pick out of Stanford, has a knack for making big-time plays. In four years as a starter, Atogwe has made 309 tackles and 18 interceptions while forcing 14 fumbles and defending 32 passes. As a prepster in Windsor, Ontario, Atogwe starred at football, basketball, soccer and track, earning All-City and All-Canada honors, and at Stanford he competed for two years on the track team, recording a 22’10″ in the long jump and 43’3¾” in the triple jump. It also doesn’t hurt that Atogwe, who stands 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, is incredibly bright and majored in biological sciences at Stanford.

3. No salary cap
For the first time in two decades, it doesn’t matter that the Dolphins already gave $24 million guaranteed to Brandon Marshall this offseason, and $22 million to Karlos Dansby. It doesn’t matter that they owe more than $20 million in dead money to Justin Smiley, Joey Porter, Ted Ginn, Reggie Torbor and Gibril Wilson. Atogwe likely wants a deal similar to the five-year, $37 million ($15 million guaranteed) the Giants gave to Rolle, and there are no obstacles standing in the Dolphins’ way if they want to give it to him.

4 REASONS WHY THEY SHOULDN’T

1. Is he worth the money?
While Atogwe certainly has made several big plays over the years, he is not the big, physical safety the Dolphins need in their backfield, and he has been a fairly average player overall. According to stats provided by Football Outsiders, Atogwe ranked just 79th among NFL defenders in yards allowed per play in 2009 (12.3 yards), 78th in stop rate (28 percent) and 81st in yards allowed per run play (11.6). He shines in fantasy football, where interceptions and fumbles reign supreme, but that has likely overstated his true value to an NFL team.

2. Injury risk
Atogwe missed the final four games of the 2009 season after undergoing two surgeries – for his shoulder and a sports hernia. Do the Dolphins really want to give top dollar to a player who is no guarantee to last through a 16-game season? And if Atogwe does get hurt, and the Dolphins are forced to play Clemons/Jones/Culver/Amaya, that doesn’t really solve their depth issues.

3. They’ve already spent a ton of money on free agents
Marshall got $50 million ($24 guaranteed) this offseason. Dansby already got $43 million ($22 guaranteed). True, there is no salary cap in 2010, but the Dolphins already have a payroll in the neighborhood of $105 million this year, according to figures provided by the NFLPA, with $10-15 million more due in rookie salaries and roster bonuses. With several teams likely bidding for Atogwe, the Dolphins would probably have to overpay to sign him. Though owner Stephen Ross vowed not to mess with the football side of the operation, it’s definitely possible he could step in and say “enough is enough.”

4. Beware the curse of Gibril Wilson
Remember him? He came to the Dolphins last year with a Super Bowl ring and a ton of hype after starting 51 of 52 games with the New York Giants between 2004-07. Thirteen months later, the Dolphins cut Wilson and swallowed $8 million after Wilson didn’t pick off a pass in 2009 and personified a disappointing defense that allowed the most plays of 40-plus yards in the league. Atogwe certainly has shined during his career in St. Louis, but signing free agents is not always the best way to build depth (ask the Redskins). Atogwe will have missed the Dolphins’ offseason program, including all OTAs and mini-camps, and could struggle to pick up Mike Nolan’s new defense. The Dolphins may be better served scraping the free agent wire for safety help, and building through the draft.

CONCLUSION
Signing Atogwe would be a sexy move, one that would generate plenty of headlines for the Dolphins and increase the stakes even higher between the Fins, Jets and Patriots this season. Atogwe, 28, is in the prime of his career and could be the final piece of a championship-caliber defense. But there is enough downside to the player — including the risk of injury and the risk of overpaying for a player that doesn’t exactly fit their defense — that Atogwe would come with a glaring “Buyer Beware” price tag.

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