The Packers are in need of an upgrade at the safety position opposite Pro Bowler Nick Collins. Atari Bigby has been good for the most part, leaving a bit to be desired in pass coverage, when he has been able to stay healthy. However, since the 2007 season which was Bigby's breakout year, the hard hitting safety has been bothered by nagging injuries that have limited his effectiveness and availability.
Most recently in the 2009 wild card playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals Bigby was unable to finish the game which meant special teams player Matt Giordano was forced into action against one of the leagues most potent passing attacks. The results, Kurt Warner threw more touchdown passes, 5, than incompletions 4. It wasn't solely the fault of Giordano and the Packers secondary, the pass rush failed to reach Warner all game long, but not having Bigby in the lineup certainly contributed to the Packers defensive woes giving up 45 points to the Cardinals offense.
Without a doubt the Packers will be looking to add a mid round saftey like Major Wright or Myron Rolle, through the draft. Another option Packers GM Ted Thompson and his staff should be seriously considering is delving into the restricted free agent market and signing St. Louis Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe to an offer sheet. The Rams tendered Atogwe who has been the best defense player on a very bad team since the 2007 season at the lowest level. Which means they will not receive any draft pick compensation if he signs with another team, they do maintain the right to match any offer he receives. The Rams decision to tender Atogwe at this level was financially motivated, if they had tendered him any higher they would have had to pay him 110 percent of his 2009 salary when he played under the franchise tag which was around 6 million.
The 5-11 205 pound safety is the same size as Bigby and while he is not the devastating hitter Bigby can be when he's healthy Atogwe is much better in pass coverage and as a play maker. Becoming a starter in his second season, 2006, he has made 18 interceptions and forced 14 fumbles during the last four seasons. Despite playing in just 12 games last season the Windsor, Ontario Canada native had 74 tackles, a sack, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles. In comparison Bigby played 13 games in 2009 recording 49 tackles, no sacks, no forced fumbles, he did have 4 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed.
Signing Atogwe would immediately improve the Packers pass defense and put them in the position of having great depth at the position with Bigby and special teams ace Derrick Martin behind Collins and Atogwe. The only obstacle to signing O.J. Atogwe is the contractual aspects having just given big money to safety Nick Collins the Packers might not want to invest further at the position. Inking Atogwe would take a contract on par with the one Collins just signed. The Stanford grad would come slightly cheaper than Collins did but not much a three year contract with at least 10 million guaranteed would probably put Atogwe in a Packers uniform in 2010.
O.J. Atogwe is a top ten NFL safety and pairing him with a top 5 safety, Nick Collins would give the Packers the best safety duo in the league, allowing the Packers much more defensive flexibility. Either Collins or Atogwe, both capable of getting to the quarterback, would be freed up to be able to play close to the line depending on the package defensive coordinator Dom Capers chooses to employ. The 3-4 scheme Capers calls is one in which the safeties really should be interchangeable. Collins and Bigby are certainly not interchangeable owning vastly different skill sets. Signing Atogwe would give Capers the type of interchangeable safeties his scheme demands allowing the Packers to become that much more unpredictable on defense. Which is what the 3-4 is all about, being unpredictable, if the offense knows Collins isn't gonna blitz because that would leave Bigby playing the center field roll which he is not suited for you have become predictable. And, NFL offensive coordinators feast on predictability.
If Thompson wants to make a big impact on his teams upcoming season attempting to sign O.J. Atogwe is the way to do it. Thompson needs to act fast as the deadline for signing other teams restricted free agents is fast approaching, April 15th. The Rams would be wise to match any offer Atogwe receives from the Packers or any other team for that matter. However, the Rams don't always make the wise move. So, there is only one way to find out and that's by signing Atogwe to a lucrative offer sheet and hoping the Rams deem it too high a price to pay.
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