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Let's Play Ball


signed their tenders. They are in the same boat as about 40-some other players who haven't signed their restricted tenders, including the prominent likes of Shawne Merriman, Elvis Dumervil, Vincent Jackson, Owen Daniel and Jamal Brown.

If they don't sign by June 1, the day after Memorial Day, teams can protect their rights by re-qualifying them at the same tender. If they don't sign by June 15, get this, teams can protect their rights by issuing them a qualifying offer at 110 percent of last year's base salary. In some cases, such as Austin's, that would be less than his current tender - about $1 million less. (Sensabaugh's would be about the same, but his is a unique case because of how his contract was structured last year.)

Teams generally don't do that, though, wanting to avoid a contentious situation if indeed they want to sign these guys to a long-term deal, and the Cowboys almost certainly won't. Then again, facing an unknown CBA, many owners have become more gun-shy signing players to long-term deals without knowing the new rules. Who knows?

There is one player out there in a rather unique situation, that being St. Louis Rams free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who likely has been pulling his hair out - until June 15. See, Atogwe really has been taking it up the shorts. In 2008, when his initial contract expired with the Rams, he was a restricted free agent ($2 million tender). Last year, the Rams then franchised him, preventing him from signing a long-term deal. And because he still only had five years in the league, he was eligible to be restricted because of the uncapped year.

Well, every restricted classification but one stipulates the player's tender has to be at the very least 110 percent of last year's base salary. Well, because Atogwe was franchised last year, 110 percent would have been $6.976 million. So the Rams tendered him at the lowest amount, $1.226 million, which only guaranteed them a right of first refusal - no draft choice compensation if signed by another team. And likely because of coming off shoulder surgery and wanting a long-term deal, no team made him an offer.

So, of course, Atogwe hasn't signed his tender either. The Rams will likely extend his current tender on June 1.

But the showdown will arrive June 15, and no way Atogwe will sign his tender, and here's why: Remember, to reserve an unsigned restricted player's rights after June 15, he has to be offered a tender of at least 110 percent of last year's base salary. Well, well, here's one for the players. Because Atogwe was franchised last year, then that means the Rams must offer him the $6.976 million to protect his rights.

What are the chances they do that? Ha!

A long-term deal maybe? With ownership change in motion, probably not.

Release him? Maybe.

Now I know what you're thinking: Atogwe could fall right into the Cowboys' laps since currently the leading two candidates to replace Ken Hamlin at free safety are Alan Ball and Mike Hamlin. Between the two of them, they have four starts at free safety, all Ball's last year when he converted from corner to play safety, too.

So a couple of things. First of all, not sure the Cowboys believe Atogwe is all that, even though he had started 60 consecutive games before last December's shoulder dislocation. And since 2006, Atogwe had combined for the most interceptions and forced fumbles in the league.

There is this, too. My guess is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones might be a little gun shy offering another safety a bit-time, long-term deal. I mean, he did that the summer of '06 for former first-round pick Roy Williams and then again in '08 for Ken Hamlin. For a combined $20 million guaranteed, Jones got no more decent seasons out of Williams and no more decent seasons out of Hamlin, to the point last year you could not tell the difference between Hamlin being in there or Ball starting those four games. In fact, Ball was credited with three passes defensed in his four starts. Hamlin? Why he had all of four in his 12 starts, with no interceptions - only one less than in '08 - nor a forced fumble or fumble recovery.

And why he and Williams are no longer here.

Plus, the Cowboys think they have something in Ball - Mike Hamlin, too. At this point, Ball's 190 pounds might be his only drawback, and not because he can't

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