The Patriots have a whole lot of needs this off-season, and one of the most popular to point to is the secondary. Last year, the Patriots defense started out terribly against the pass. Then they traded for Aqib Talib, promoted Alfonzo Dennard to starter, moved Devin McCourty to safety, and vastly improved.
Unfortunately we could be looking at yet another complete makeover in the secondary. So, I've decided to make a list of the top free-agent cornerbacks on the market with a Patriots focus. A couple of these guys are going to come with a hefty price, which almost always means that the Pats are a long shot to sign them, but they've been linked to the Patriots in some way.
Without further ado, the top five cornerbacks the Patriots could sign as free-agents.
1. Aqib Talib:
I don't need to say much about the impact Aqib Talib can have on a secondary. He along with Alfonzo Dennard completely turned around the Patriots' porous unit last year. Unfortunately, there's a distinct possibility the Patriots could be without both next season.
Re-signing Aqib Talib has its fair share of risks. He has had a good deal of trouble off of the field, which is bad for two reasons. The first is nobody really wants someone with bad character on their team, but the more tangible thing is that if he gets in trouble again he'll be facing a stiff penalty. In other words, a lengthy suspension.
The Patriots are also reportedly hesistant to sign him because they were dissatisfied with his work ethic. He was also often injured in his short stint in New England.
Talib is also maybe the top corner on the market, and therefore could come with a steep price. It's unlikely that the Patriots are going to franchise him for that $10 million guaranteed figure. Also, while the Alfonzo Dennard verdict puts the Pats in a tough spot, they aren't the type of team to sign big contracts out of panic.
Still, Aqib Talib had such a notable impact on that defense that the team has to recongnize that they need a proven playmaker back there if they are going to contend. With Tom Brady getting older, the team should want to do everything they can to make a run at the Super Bowl while Brady's still under center. Signing Talib for big money comes with it's fair share of risks, but they're all worth it in my mind. Super Bowl or bust.
That said, looking at things realistically, it remains unlikely that Talib is a Patriot next year.
2. Brent Grimes: Now this guy on the other hand has Patriots listed all over him.
The Falcons' top corner was ready to become one of the best cornerbacks in the league, but he suffered an achilles injury in September. Last off-season he was right behind Darrelle Revis in Pro Football Focus' list of top cornerbacks. Here's PFF on Grimes:
Grimes shows a fantastic instinct for zone coverage and reminds me a little of Asante Samuel without the lapses and questionable desire for contact. He has fantastic fundamentals, quick reactions and a pretty good set of ball skills when the ball is in the air.
It's also been reported that he'll accept a one-year deal.
A top talent player whose value has gone down due to an injury? That screams of a Patriots-type pick up.
3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: Our own Liam Cunningham wrote a great piece on Rodgers-Cromartie, with the nugget that the Patriots have always thought highly of the corner. Signing Cromartie essentially comes down to money. Rodgers-Cromartie was once one of the top corners in the league, until he went to Philly. The same could be said for Nnamdi Asomugha.
Given the tumultuous environment of the Philadelphia Eagles the past couple years, I'm willing to bet it was more the situation than the players that led to the drop in production. And I'm betting that's what a lot of teams looking at DRC will think too. The tangibles are still just too great to pass up, and that's going to mean Cromartie will command decent money. According to a report from the Philidelphia Inquirer, the Eagles don't plan to franchise DRC, he will be hitting the open market. That means if the Patriots want to bring him to New England, they'll have to engage in a bidding war. Something they usually don't like to get involved in.
He would give the Patriots a more than capable replacement for Aqib Talib on the outside, should the Patriots let him go. If the Pats are really willing to splurge (and we know they aren't!), a combination of Talib and DRC would make Pats fans ecstatic. Don't get your hopes up for that.
4. Quentin Jammer: Much has been made of impending free-agents Charles Woodson and Ed Reed as some aging veterans who could step in and save the leaky Patriots secondary. However, there's another name out there that could fill that need, but doesn't exactly have the big name recognition of the former two.
Chargers' cornerback Quentin Jammer is am 11-year vet, a free-agent, and could be a possibility for the Patriots. While Jammer is getting up there in age (33), he is still a productive player and could very well transition to safety - also an area the Patriots have a need. He made $4 million a year on his last contract and would likely be taking less on his next deal.
Jammer has also proved to be durable, he has missed more than one game only once in his career - his rookie season. Durability is obviously something the Patriots desperately need at this position. This wouldn't be a move that Patriots fans could celebrate over, but it could be one the Patriots make.
5. Greg Toler: Ditto for the Cardinals' Greg Toler.
The Cardinals are going to make Toler a priority to re-sign, but if they fail to do so the Patriots could get involved.
Toler has had an injury riddled career, but has proved be a talent when he's gotten his opportunities. CBS' Pete Prisco has a great write up on Toler, who he pegs as the top under-the-radar free-agents.
That's the one thing that surprised me on tape: His willingness to tackle. He throws his body around, but he's also more than capable of staying with good receivers. He can play press-man, off-man and he seems comfortable playing zone.
For a team looking for a 28-year-old corner who would seem to have his best football in front of him, Toler would make a ton of sense.
He's a physical and smart player who's strong against the run and the pass, something Bill Belichick will drool over.
Honorable Mentions: Sean Smith, Cary Williams, Chris Houston, Keenan Lewis, Tony Carter, Adam Jones