RFA News for Packers, Atogwe

While the Packers re-tendered restricted free agents Tramon Williams, Johnny Jolly and Atari Bigby on Tuesday, the Rams decided to set big-play safety O.J. Atogwe free.

As of 11 p.m. Central, a big fish hit the watered-down unrestricted free agent pond.

The Rams elected not to re-tender Oshiomogho Atogwe at Tuesday's deadline, making the big-play safety an unrestricted free agent.

As part of the collective bargaining agreement, teams had to re-tender their restricted free agents by Tuesday night. The Green Bay Packers reportedly did just that with cornerback Tramon Williams (first- and third-round tender), defensive end Johnny Jolly (first-round tender) and safety Atari Bigby (second-round tender).

For Atogwe, the heart of the matter is the cash-strapped Rams still haven't been sold. In March, the Rams gave Atogwe — their franchise player in 2009 — the lowest restricted tender ($1.226 million), which gave them the right to match any offers but would have resulted in losing him for no draft pick compensation. While Atogwe didn't receive any offers, there was little financial incentive for current owner Chip Rosenbloom to sign Atogwe to a long-term deal. So on Tuesday, the Rams had to either give Atogwe 110 percent of his 2009 salary ($6.976 million) or set him free.

Atogwe, who turns 29 in three weeks, has completed five NFL seasons, including four as a starter. In 2007, he led the NFC with eight interceptions. In 2008, the former third-round selection picked off five passes and forced six fumbles. Last season, he fell to two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Given Bigby's injury history and lack of range in the secondary, Atogwe would have made sense to pair with Nick Collins. But the Packers used a third-round selection on Morgan Burnett, so Atogwe probably isn't on their radar.

Not surprisingly, agent Ken Landphere wasn't available on Tuesday night to address whether the Packers have given him a call.

The Vikings reportedly are one of Atogwe's likely suitors. He'd be a major upgrade over incumbent starters Tyrell Johnson (second round, 2008) and Madieu Williams (entering Year 3 of six-year, $33.75 million deal). The Vikings, as one of the last four teams standing in the playoffs last year, were under free agent restrictions this offseason but would be free to sign Atogwe because they lost big-money running back Chester Taylor.

Back to the Packers, the next key date is June 15, when the team can reduce its restricted free agent tenders to 110 percent of the player's 2009 salary while retaining exclusive negotiating rights. While Jolly has legal issues and Bigby could be replaced by Burnett, Williams will fill a key role on defense regardless of the health of Al Harris. Williams signed a one-year deal worth $900,000 last year. If he doesn't sign his tender, he'd make 110 percent of that, or $990,000, rather than the tender amount of $3.043 million. So, both sides will be under the gun to get something worked out in the next two weeks.

Jolly would be a big loser, going from $2.521 million to $588,500 (110 percent of last year's $535,000). Not that he doesn't have enough on his plate, with his frequently delayed trial now pushed back to Friday. Bigby's failure to sign his tender is mystifying, considering he's going to battle Burnett for the starting job. Financially, however, it's not a big issue. If Bigby doesn't sign by June 15, he would go from $1.759 million to $1.6995 million (110 percent of last year's second-round tender amount of $1.545 million).

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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