Atogwe becomes unrestricted free agent; Rams hope to keep him

Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, the St. Louis Rams' top playmaker the last four seasons, became an unrestricted free agent Wednesday after the sides didn't agree on a multiyear contract.

The Rams had a late Tuesday deadline to sign Atogwe, who's coming off shoulder surgery that sidelined him for the final four games last season. The team declined to offer Atogwe a one-year tender for $6.976 million -- the player's 2009 salary, plus 10 percent.

NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora reported the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys are two teams that could be interested in Atogwe. However, the Dallas Morning News quoted Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as saying his team isn't in the mix.

League sources told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the Minnesota Vikings -- another rumored suitor -- will not pursue Atogwe. Vikings safeties Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson have eight total years of NFL experience, but they started all but one game together last season.

Atogwe didn't participate in the Rams' offseason conditioning program, and he hasn't attended organized team activities in May and June. But coach Steve Spagnuolo said Atogwe was at Rams Park last week and the two had a "good long conversation."

"I love O.J," Spagnuolo said Wednesday. "The process took us to this point, but it's ongoing. I mean, we're still working at it and very hopeful, and we'll just have to see what happens these next couple of days."

Spagnuolo said the Rams must prepare as if Atogwe will not be back.

"It's the reason why you have depth charts," the coach said. "You've got to have guys ready to go."

Atogwe was second on the team with 74 tackles last season, and he also had two interceptions. Craig Dahl, who started at free safety at the end of the season, is No. 1 for now, according to Spagnuolo.

"I recall him doing pretty good in a couple of games," the coach said. "I remember one of the mistakes, too. But steady and consistent."

Dahl believes he's ready to help the Rams in any way.

"I feel like I am able to grasp concepts a lot better," Dahl said, according to the team's official Web site. " ... Here is a time where we really need to get picked apart, figure out what you need to get better at and what we can improve on as a defense. That's what we are looking to do here this spring."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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