New England Patriots: Aqib Talib gone, what now?

Well, the first domino fell, and it made one helluva crashing noise when it did.

Just as the first day of free agency was drawing to a close, Aqib Talib signed a 6 yr/56 mil deal (26 mil guaranteed) with the Denver Broncos.

Here are four instant reactions from this game-changing deal:

1.    That contract is absolutely bananas.

Seriously. Losing Talib hurts (we’ll get there), but if I were the New England Patriots I don’t match that, no way, no how. 9.5 million a year? For 6 years? With 26 million guaranteed, the most guaranteed to a cornerback in NFL history?? This is the same cornerback who was pulled because of injury in two straight AFC title games, right? Aqib Talib said he wanted to be the best-paid corner in the market, but this is a bit much right?

To put this in perspective, earlier in the day, the Tampa Bay signed Alterraun Verner to a 4yr/26.5 million deal, who was three years younger with no injury history and arguably just as promising a talent.

Yes, losing the Super Bowl in such an embarrassing fashion has obviously made the Broncos desperate to import any and every talent (TJ Ward already signed there, and DeMarcus Ware seems to be next), but the chances of this contract being looked back upon as worth it seems slim.

2. That being said…

Aqib_TalibWe all saw what happened without Talib on the field in the afore-mentioned AFC title game. As the secondary sits now, that’s a major weakness. As promising as Logan Ryan was last year, can you throw him in as the No. 1 corner? Alfonzo Dennard, as much as we all like him, has a whole lot of trouble with corners much taller than him. And at this point, I don’t trust Kyle Arrington anywhere outside of the slot.

We always knew losing Talib was a possibility, but it’s hard not to feel at least little deflated, especially at the hands of the team’s No. 1 rival.

But we know for certain that Bill Belichick has contingency plans on top of contingency plans. So…

3. Let’s Go Shopping

Alright so Alterraun Verner, Brent Grimes, Vontae Davis, Sam Shields, and DeAngelo Hall are all off the market. And I really find it hard to believe the Patriots would go after Antonio Cromartie, what with the bad blood between them (though stranger things have happened).

download (1)But there are still some goodies left in the market. Although he’s 33, Charles Tillman is a steady veteran presence who is a shutdown corner in man-to-man coverage (though a bit shaky in zone).  At 6’2, Tillman immediately takes pressure off of Dennard and provides a great mentor for Logan Ryan.

My favorite free agent corner left, and arguably the top on the current market, is former Bronco Dominique Rodgers Cromartie. While he was expected to re-sign with Denver, the presence of Talib (and the comparatively inexpensive Chris Harris) probably changes that. DRC bounced around a bit after a promising start in Arizona, but was the Broncos’ best cornerback, and at 27 has a lot of football ahead of him. Like Tillman, he’s best in man coverage on the outside, and at 6’2 can match up with the biggest receivers in the AFC.

But the name on everyone’s lips is obviously Darrelle Revis, who is rumored to be cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, it would behoove the Patriots to trade for the Buccaneers before they release him. With the top corners off the market, the Patriots don’t want to get into a bidding war for the corner. By trading for him, and possibly restructuring his deal a bit to ease this year’s cap hit (next year, a whole lot of money comes off the books), financially it’s a fit.

downloadAnd without a question, Darrelle Revis is a great fit for the Patriots defense. The former “Island” specializes in neutralizing star receivers. At 28, Revis is still in his prime, and after years of being stuck on underachieving teams, he might buy into a team desperate to win a Super Bowl right now. CBSSports’ Jason LaCanfora reported the former Jet would love to play in New England, which may make it easier to negotiate with him than, say, Cleveland.

Most likely the Patriots will be making moves on a corner by the time this article is posted, but I’d be very surprised if it’s not one of the three listed above.

And finally…

4.    Corner moves up the Patriots draft needs 

Since no corner will be brought in, now that Talib is gone, on a team-friendly deal, it makes sense for the Patriots to bring in another blue-chip prospect through the draft. And, as fate would have it, this year’s class has some very interesting players.

The real prizes are obviously Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert, but both figure to be long gone by #29. I have a huge football crush on TCU’s Jason Verrett (very few college corners had as great a nose for the ball or played as fearlessly as him) but his below-average length may lead to his being used mainly as a slot cover. Bradley Roby has impressed greatly with a terrific Combine, especially after a disappointing final season at Ohio State. Kyle Fuller has impressed enough scouts that a team may ignore his injury risks and go all in on his talent.

And the middle rounds are likewise dotted with talent. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Keith McGill and Pierre Desir all fit the bill of the long, rangy corner that seems destined to be the en-vogue type after the Seahawks SB win. And corners like Bashaud Breeland (Clemson), Jaylen Watkins (Florida), and Ross Cockrell (Duke) are almost certainly on the Patriots big board.

No matter how the rest of free agency shakes out, it seem now, more than ever, that New England will bring in another corner via the draft.

 

So that’s that. As I’m writing this it’s 12:43 AM, and all is quiet after the Talib deal. By the morning more moves will be made and we’ll all panic again.

Make sure to follow me on my new Twitter @isportspeters, where I’ll try to keep pumping out updates, and send me your own thoughts about all this there or at isportspeters@gmail.com.

  • Matt

    I’m really disappointed with the way the corner back situation has shaken out. It stings seeing Talib end up in Denver of all places and I’m curious if the Pats had any contact with Verner cause I feel like he was an absolute bargain. I figured he would get at least 30-35 million over 4 or 5 years. Do you think the Pats will try to pick up bargains like usual? I think Browner becomes a much bigger one year prove it candidate cause the Pats have to be really desperate at this point and I’ve never considered Revis as a serious possibility. If they do pick up Browner I think they try to get Tillman also cause he should be relatively cheap and short term. I’d also wouldn’t mind seeing a guy like Cortland Finnegan bring an edge to the secondary. There’s a lot of questions that I’m hoping get answered sooner rather than later(Even though the Pats will most likely take their sweet time as usual). The Safeties in free agency went extremely quick also so I’m wondering if Pryor becomes a trade up target now if he falls to the lower 20s in the draft.

    • Alex Peters

      Good thoughts Matt, though I wouldn’t hold your breath for immediate answers.

      I will say there are obvious concerns about Browner, not just his off-the-field troubles but he’s never been THE guy on the secondary, though he’s built like a truck which would be a nice addition to the team. I don’t love Cortland Finnegan, but for the right price, I’d at least kick the tires on him. My favorite of the three you mentioned is Tillman and, now that the Bucs signed Verner, he might be open to try NE out. That being said if you sign Tillman, you need to draft a talented corner early to jump in sooner rather than later.

      Calvin Pryor may be my favorite player in this draft, and he’d be a perfect fit next to McCourty, but there are some serious holes to fill. It depends how the rest of free agency shakes out, obviously, but D-line, interior OL, and TE all need to be addressed by the end of Round 4. That means trading up/taking Pryor in the first round could be risky.

      And I’d start buying into the Revis hype. Esp. with the Ware signing, the Patriots need to make a big chess move pretty quickly.

      • Matt

        I can’t believe the aggressiveness of the Broncos front office and how they really have gone all in. I wasn’t expecting Ware to command 10 Mil a year and with word of that, the Pats need to make some kind of splash. I hope the Pats don’t sign DRC, he seems soft to me and I didn’t like his attitude leading up to the super bowl. With a lot of focus on what the Pats will do defensively at the moment, I think they need to beef up the offense as well since Denver and Indy (I was disapointed about Arthur Jones, I wanted to believe he would take a pay cut to team up with his little bro) have upgraded their defensive units. In order to still be able to create that one significant mismatch on Sundays they need a stronger personnel.

        Any word on where Sproles might land? With Vereen missing a good amount of time with Injuries the past couple seasons, Sproles would fill in nicely, maybe like what they envisioned for Leon Washington last year. The only thing I’ve heard offensively from the Pats is a few underwhelming backup lineman will visit along with Lafell which is another guy with questionable hands and a potential Brady headache.

        Is there any timetable on the Hernandez cap hit because that dead money is killing us especially in the early goings of free agency. They have been very quiet on the restructuring/extending part to. I’m hoping they have some grand master plan as I continue to bite my tongue and believe in Belichick.

        Also big fan of your posts, always interesting topics and great insight. Keep writing!!

        • Alex Peters

          There have been reports that the Patriots have some interest in Sproles, but I’m wary of giving him a big multi-year deal. I think he’s obviously a huge weapon, but I’d rather spend that money elsewhere (though I’m obviously basing that on a healthy Vereen). I truly think another team (the Redskins, the Browns) will be more willing to throw a big contract at him. He’d have to take a pay cut to play in NE i think.

          I’m just as confused as you are by the Hernandez cap situation. From everything I’ve heard it doesn’t clear til after 2014 season because of when they cut him. I’m waiting for the shoe to drop on Wilfork, which could spark the cuts of Sopoaga, Kelly, etc. for additional relief.

          A quick note on the interior linemen. I think Shelley Smith is the right kind of depth to consider, but I think they’ll be targeting a starting center in the draft (Martin, Swanson, Bodine, and, my favorite, Richburg) and move Cannon to compete for the starting RG with Connolly. I’d look for the Pats to focus their remaining money on a CB, a WR, a DL, or maybe someone like Owen Daniels.

          Appreciate it!!
          Alex