Redskins, Snyder play free agency cooly

According to media reports, free agent safety O.J. Atogwe departed Washington on Tuesday minus a signed contract, maybe even without a formal offer.

So maybe, just maybe, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has finally determined that winning the free agent Super Bowl in the spring isn’t quite the same as capturing a real Vince Lombardi Trophy on the final day of the season.

Time was, and not all that long ago, when Snyder would have ordered his minions to deadbolt the Redskins Park glass doors behind Atogwe when the former St. Louis star, released by the Rams last week, entered the facility. He would have imposed the equivalent of house arrest until Atogwe, a contract nudged in front of him, added his John Hancock to the document. Or he would have phoned up former Indianapolis safety Bob Sanders, also released last week after sitting out four seasons worth of games with the Colts in seven years, for a visit.

In the bad ol’ days, the Washington owner would have dispatched one of his fleet of private jets by now to pick up and woo tight end Jeremy Shockey, jettisoned by the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday afternoon and represented by Drew Rosenhaus, one of Snyder’s boys, and swing by and grab mammoth defensive lineman Shaun Rogers — released last week by the Browns — en route.

After all, Atogwe and Sanders are safeties, and the Redskins have a dire need at the position. The chronically injured Sanders is a onetime defensive player of the year. Atogwe pilfered eight passes in 2007, while current Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett held the same position in St. Louis. Washington doesn’t really having a big void at tight end but, after all, Shockey is a former first-round pick and, while he is coming off the poorest statistical season of his professional career, still retains a degree of name, if not game.

That once would have been enough to attract Snyder — who essentially played fantasy football with real, live players, not avatars — and to have landed Shockey a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal. Put a big name on the market and Snyder could hardly contain himself.

But just three months shy of the 12th anniversary of Snyder purchasing the iconic Redskins’ franchise, the Washington owner seems to have taken a major step in the ongoing process of becoming a responsible franchise steward. He has exercised an inordinate amount of restraint, and that is hardly a small thing for him.

Oh, sure, Snyder still does some dubious things in and away from the game. He has sued a Washington-area newspaper for what he considered an unflattering portrait of his ownership. Last year, he hired Mike Shanahan as head coach, the year after he’d signed petulant defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in free agency for some $100 million, and exclaimed his 2010 spree by traded for an apparently used-up quarterback in Donovan McNabb.

All, notably, big names.

Hours before free agency commenced in the past, Snyder would have his planes circling the airports in cities where his targeted players lived. And the Washington owner would usually have players signed, like Haynesworth, before the sun rose on the first full day of free agency.

Since there is soon to be no collective bargaining agreement — and, despite the efforts of a federal mediator, unlikely to be one before the current deal expires next week — there might not be free agency for a long time. Even if there was, Snyder might not be so quick to act.

In 11 seasons with Snyder at the helm, the Redskins have twice as many losing years (six) as playoff campaigns, and have won just one NFC East title. It’s taken a while for reality to sink in on Snyder, whose learning curve on the road to growth may have been hastened by health scares to both himself and his wife, but it certainly seems like the Redskins’ owner has at least approximated maturity.

The stranglehold of impetuous actions may still be too difficult from which Snyder can completely break free. But the departure of Atogwe without a contract on Tuesday might have been a sign that Snyder has commenced on a 12-step recovery program for onetime free-spending owners.

As the NFL continues on a road perhaps untraveled, the only certainly appears to be that it clearly won’t be business as usual.

And maybe Dan Snyder has actually gotten a head start.