New England Patriots' CB Shawn Springs was signed by the Patriots last off-season to be a veteran presence for our young secondary. He was touted as a Terrell Owens stopper (who signed with Buffalo the same off-season), but, during the regular season, only partook in 1 pass in Owens' direction in two games. Owens caught it for 27 yards.
Springs played 50% of the possible defensive snaps, which is pretty good for a #3 cornerback. However, he was being paid more than was deserved for what his contributions were on the field. He was cut in order to give the younger players greater opportunities on the field. With the rise of Darius Butler, the draft pick of Devin McCourty and the nickelback play of Jonathan Wilhite, there was no real space for an expensive veteran. Last season, there were three corners who split snaps almost exactly equally- Springs, Butler and Wilhite all had between 500 and 600 snaps.
The release of Springs opens some doors for other players on the team. What happens now?
1) Leigh Bodden is solidified as our #1 cornerback, but we all knew that.
2) The battle for the #2 cornerback spot becomes a competition of youth. Terrence Wheatley, Wilhite, Butler and McCourty all should have a shot at getting time as the #2 and, hopefully, one of those players emerges head and shoulders above the rest and gets playing time. If one player is much better than the rest, that means that they're better than Wilhite, who is a solid #3 option.
3) Jonathan Wilhite was given a vote of confidence, despite getting lit up almost every week. He doesn't have the make-up of a #2 corner, but he'll still be allowed to compete for the role. He'll most likely be a nickelback, but the fact that the Patriots cut his main competition in Springs means that the organization believes that he can do just as well as Springs.
4) Darius Butler is given that same vote of confidence. He'll get more playing time with Springs out of the picture and will be better able to show what he can actually produce on the field.
5) Devin McCourty is thrown into the fire and will immediately be asked to contribute at least as much as Butler as a rookie. Look for McCourty to see the field for a minimum of 50% of the defensive snaps.
6) Terrence Wheatley is given another chance. I thought that Wheatley was on the bubble- and he still is- but by limiting the number of players involved in the cornerback competition, Wheatley should have a greater chance of staying on the roster.
7) Kyle Arrington was most likely going to stay on the team due to his special teams ability, but with limited roster spots, there was still a possibility that he would stick on the roster. Cutting Springs almost guarantees Arrington a spot on the team.
Look for Bodden to emerge as the leader of our young secondary as our youth adjusts to the NFL. I think that our team is set for years to come at the cornerback position.
This upcoming season represents the first of a new age of youth on defense. Let's hope they don't let us down.