I find it hard to understand too, seeing that (1) so many teams are apparently interested in his services, and (2) that we were even able to get some value from a depreciated commodity like Adam Carriker. But after putting some further thought into it, here’s my take on the situation.
Obviously, the Rams can’t trade a player who isn’t under contract. (But they can still take offers.)
As long as Atogwe remained unsigned, he and his agent controlled the market. It’s possible that a team like the Lions that is still several players away from contention, but has been aggressively improving themselves this offseason, could have made a play for getting Atogwe in trade. But they would have to make a high enough offer in return to convince the Rams to sign Atogwe for the 110% of last year’s salary — the only way to bring him to the table — and then the Lions (or any other team like them) would still have no guarantee of signing him long term afterwards.
The uncapped year makes it easier to sacrifice money, but harder to sacrifice cost-controlled players
Teams on the brink of Super Bowl contention that have a need in the secondary should have been clamoring at the Rams’ door, fighting each other for the chance to sign Atogwe, right? After all, a player like that would potentially be worth breaking the bank in an uncapped year.
However, the additional cost of sacrificing a cost-controlled player or draft pick to get exclusive negotiating rights would be a high price to pay. And you’d presumably have to pass your contract proposal through to the Rams to broker a sign-and-trade. A lot of trust is required for that.
There’s still a lot of risk in signing Atogwe
In order to trade for him, you’d have to accept at the bare minimum a guaranteed salary of $7 million dollars for this coming season, with no signed contract afterwards. And you’d have to give up a draft pick. Coming off of shoulder surgery, is Atogwe worth that combination of price and risk? Are the troubling downward trends in turnovers and big plays last year merely a function of a more conservative scheme, or the sign of eroding skills?
It’s likely that the teams that are ready to throw money at him will want to build in some sort of insurance clause into their contract, to protect their risk in the deal. That’s something that wouldn’t be possible in a sign-and-trade. And again, Atogwe and his agent may have been unwilling to accept any such terms before they’ve had their chance to field all interested suitors.
As Mike Sando says, it’s a calculated gamble on both sides. But in this case, Atogwe and his agent are holding all the cards.