Safety Sergio Brown should play a larger role in 2011. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Players on the Roster:
SS Sergio Brown
SS Pat Chung
FS Bret Lockett
FS Brandon Meriweather
FS James Sanders
FS Ross Ventrone
SS Brandon McGowan
SS Jarrad Page
SS Josh Barrett (RFA)
At first glance, it appears that the Patriots are set in terms of depth in the safety position. All three of the usual starters, Chung, Meriweather and Sanders, remain on the roster and while the next player up is a free agent (Page), Sergio Brown showed a lot of promise early in the season. McGowan doesn't really have a spot on the roster since Chung has effectively replaced him on the roster- and linebacker Gary Guyton has taken over the coverage duty of tight ends and has done an excellent job.
After further examination, however, the Patriots may look at investing in a free safety in the draft.
Here's a quick summary of each player:
Josh Barrett: Was claimed off waivers, from the Broncos, during the summer and was placed on injured reserve. Did not play a snap.
Sergio Brown: Had a big debut against the Chargers as he played well against All-World tight end Antonio Gates (even though Gates had a toe injury) and defended a pass to help win the game. He became a solid special teams contributor.
Pat Chung: Started the season so hot that certain people (including myself) forgot that this was his first season starting. He was great at stopping the run and playing in the box, but he struggled a lot when asked to drop into coverage as the nickelback. He must improve his downfield coverage, or else he will only be asked to guard the box and stop plays across the middle of the field.
Bret Lockett: Has spent the majority of the past two seasons on the injured reserve, but was a solid special teams player in 2009.
Brandon McGowan: Placed on the injured reserve during the summer, but was effectively replaced by Chung and Page during the 2010 season. He was replaced at the end of the 2009 season by Sanders. Won't come back next season, unless he's a camp body.
Brandon Meriweather: Started the season in the dog house for directly disobeying Belichick's orders. While he worked his way back into the coaches favor, he still struggled in taking correct angles in pursuit, which led to many touchdowns allowed over the course of the season. He scares opposing receivers across the middle, yet struggles near the sidelines.
Jarrad Page: Acquired during the season for a 2012 draft pick, Page did a solid job as a free/strong safety hybrid. He should be brought back next season, if he can be retained for a reasonable price, as the fourth safety on the depth chart.
James Sanders: Had another quietly strong season. He doesn't possess any elite abilities, but he was solid in everything. He saved a few games and was a valuable veteran in the locker room.
Ross Ventrone: Signed in October, Ventrone played safety for the practice squad where he racked up seven Practice Player of the Week awards, including 6 in a row. He should be welcome back as a practice squad player, or even a special teams player, next season.
Belichick needs to make the decision on if he believes that Sanders and Meriweather will be resigned after next season. If he believes they will be back, I don't think the Patriots will draft a free safety. However, if he drafts a free safety in the draft, I don't think Meriweather will be back as he will be offered money from a different team. Looking at the strong safety position, I believe the Patriots need to resign Jarrad Page for depth.
Best Case 2011 Safety Roster:
SS: Pat Chung - Jarrad Page - Sergio Brown
FS: Brandon Meriweather - James Sanders
Practice Squad/Camp Bodies: Ross Ventrone, Bret Lockett, Josh Barrett