Maybe... (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
There are a lot of amusing nicknames out there that we use to describe our significant others. Warden. The Ol' Ball and Chain. Pookie. Muffin.The Old Man/Lady. Sweetcheeks. I once had a girlfriend who called me butthead.
But perhaps no nickname is more fitting, at least in my case, than the term "my better half." Because that's really what love is all about, isn't it? Finding someone that makes you a better person, someone you want to make some positive changes for. Of course, wanting to make a change for someone you love doesn't mean that you completely alter who you are altogether. After all, when you love someone, you love all of them fully. You take the good with the bad, the pretty with the ugly, and you stand behind your mate no matter what. It's important, in a relationship, to know that you will always have someone who will defend you, even if there are times when you may not deserve it.
And when it comes to the 2011 New England Patriots defense, we've all had to do a lot of standing by our man this past season. While experts, analysts, and opposing fans everywhere were laying into this 31st ranked defense, we were busy making the case that the numbers weren't important. Our best argument was probably that yards allowed doesn't really matter so much, and it's points against that are the real indicator. We also made the case that when you have a big lead and are scoring a lot of points, which the offense certainly did, teams have to throw more against you and thus are going to rack up the numbers. There was talk about how the corners struggled because the pass rush wasn't solid and there wasn't much safety help over the top. These are all good arguments, and valid points, to be honest.
But you know what? I, for one, am sick of making them. I don't want to sit at a bar on Monday and try to say that the reason Dan Orlovsky absolutely shredded New England's secondary because it was garbage time and the Pats were in Prevent. I don't want to give Buffalo Bills fans hope by allowing their quarterback to pass the ball at will. I don't want Vince Young to think he ever has a shot at playing in the NFL ever again. I'm sick of giving up yards and big plays.
I love you, Patriots...but I'd like you to change. Will you change, please? For me??
To say New England's cornerbacks underachieved this year is a bit of an understatement. I don't even want to think about all the times during the regular season when they would give up 18 yards on a 3rd and 17 or leave slot receivers all alone over the middle of the field. We've had to endure 500 yard passing days from no-name quarterbacks, wide receivers forced into nickel packages, and other teams' practice squad rejects as our starters. Our All-Pro Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010 looked more like an All-Schmo Snookie on the Pier in 2011. Our 2nd round draft pick went on IR before he ever really got a chance to show off his skills. All in all, I'd say the Patriots' corners were largely responsible for the large green cloud of profanity still floating over Central Brooklyn.
Whether the DB position is addressed via the draft, free agency, or more effective coaching of the players currently on the team, something needs to be done to avoid a repeat of last season. And since this is a series on free agency, let's take a look at the available cornerbacks, and which ones would be the best fit for the Patriots.
OUT OF MY LEAGUE
Brent Grimes used to be on this list...but he's been franchised. Corner is an area of need for New England, so there's really only one player I see them having no real shot of getting.
Carlos Rogers. There is definitely a chance that Rogers becomes a free agent, but I think it's a small one. Now that Goldson has been franchised, I imagine the next step in San Francisco is figuring out a way to work out a multi-year deal for Rogers. On the chance that he does hit the market, I'd love to see the Patriots aggressively pursue the All-Pro corner, but I think it's highly doubtful. There's also the issue of how much money he'll want, and if push comes to shove, I'd rather shell out the big bucks on a pass rusher.
SO YOU'RE TELLING ME THERE'S A CHANCE...
I'm honestly not sure how much of a priority Bill Belichick is going to place on pursuing a cornerback via free agency versus drafting one/working to improve the current DBs on the roster. Thus, I'm not overly confident that any of the below corners will be on his immediate radar.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Finnegan is a top 10 corner, plain and simple. He's great against the run and strong in coverage, making up what he lacks in size with extreme toughness. Finnegan and the Titans seem pretty much resigned to parting ways; while there is still a chance that they could work something out, at this stage in the game, I don't see it. If he hits the open market, he would be an immediate upgrade at cornerback and would bring some of that hard hitting and toughness that Rodney Harrison brought to this secondary early in the 2000s.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: Finnegan has never been the kind of player that strikes me as a good Patriot. He is somewhat infamous for dirty play and has been known to fly off the handle on occasion. While Bill Belichick is definitely the kind of coach to keep that kind of behavior in check, Finngean still comes with some risk. He also comes with a price tag, and will be looking for a hefty contract as one of the premier cornerbacks on the market.
Overall: I've always liked Finnegan, and don't really think he's all that dirty, to be honest. But for whatever reason, I just don't see him coming here; I can't even picture what he would look like in a Patriots jersey. Belichick likes character guys, and that just isn't Finnegan. I fully expect the Patriots to be in the conversation in regards to potential landing spots, but when the dust settles, I don't see Finnegan in New England. I wouldn't be at all upset if I turned out to be wrong, though.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Carr is one of the best corners available this year, as he isn't likely to be back with the Chiefs now that they have signed Routt and franchised Bowe. He is only 25 years old and stands at 6'0 tall, which would bring some much-needed size to New England's secondary. He can play on the outside or in the slot, and the combination of Carr, Dowling, McCourty, and Arrington could make for a sturdy secondary.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: As one of the most highly sought FAs in this class, Carr is going to command a fairly strong salary for his services, and it is likely that several teams will come knocking. I just don't see New England as one of the teams that makes a big-money signing in the secondary this offseason, which means they are likely to bow out of the Carr sweepstakes fairly early and work on developing the talent they already have/will have through the draft.
Overall: I'd love to be wrong here, and I don't think Brandon Carr to New England is by any means out of the question. I just think that there will be other big spender teams out there willing to pay more for him that the Patriots are, and see him ending up somewhere like Dallas or Tampa Bay.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: When he was healthy, Thomas was fierce against the run with the size to handle some of the bigger receivers in the league. While he isn't a shutdown corner, he is a very good corner, and one who will have a lot to prove coming off his season-ending injury.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: Thomas has now torn his ACL two times, which raises question marks about his durability. The last thing New England needs is another injury prone cornerback. Plus, the Giants are on record saying they would like to keep him, and reportedly contract talks are already underway, which leads me to believe that he'll stay with the team. It makes the most sense for Thomas to sign a one or two year deal with New York in order to allow him to prove that he is still the reliable, run-stuffing corner that he has been in the past.
Overall: If he's healthy, and he's a free agent, I'd definitely work him out. Those are two big ifs, though, and I'd feel much more comfortable if the Patriots went after more of a sure thing than a corner who has been out of football for a year. Regardless, I think it's a moot point, because Thomas is likely going to be a Giant.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Marshall can't be considered an elite or shutdown corner, but he is still one of the better defensive backs about to hit the market, and this is clearly an area where the Patriots could use some veteran help. Marshall is a physical corner who is particularly solid in run support and is also able to transition between playing corner and safety. New England could certainly use that skillset as they continue to figure out who starts opposite Pat Chung.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: After locking down Calais Campbell, Arizona's second priority should be to re-sign Marshall. Interest seems mutual between Marshall and the Cardinals, and he isn't the kind of corner that is going to break the bank. I expect him to stay where he is - but even if he doesn't, there is bound to be some competition for his services. What competition usually means is that one team pays more for a player than he's actually worth, and that team is never the Pats.
Overall: If he doesn't re-up in Arizona, expect to hear "sources" saying that New England is in the mix for him. However, I'd be very surprised if he isn't a Cardinal in 2012.
MOM, DAD...THERE'S SOMEONE I WANT YOU TO MEET.
If the Patriots do pursue a corner free agent, these are the guys I see them as most likely to bring in.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Before his injury, Mathis was enjoying somewhat of a career revival and reminded us all that he used to be an elite corner in this league. Even though he has lost a step, he is still a strong, big DB with the ability to step in right away and become a playmaker for this team. I definitely think Jacksonville will allow him to test the waters, and he may very well sign in New England for less money in exchange for the shot at a championship.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: A 31 year-old corner coming off a torn ACL has to be seen as somewhat of a liability, particularly considering the injury happened mid-season and Mathis's return date is still up in the air. He might simply not be worth the risk. Plus, his age makes him little more than a band aid at this point, as cornerback is one of the positions that sees players fall of quickly.
Overall: This is another "wait and see" kind of player. I don't see Mathis getting scooped up the second free agency opens, so New England will likely have some time to evaluate his injury status and gauge the temperature of the cornerback market. All the pieces may very well be in place for Mathis to come into mini-camp to prove to the coaching staff that he can still contribute.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Allen has great instincts, solid ball skills, and a decent amount of size. He also isn't the kind of corner who will command a massive contract and would work very well as part of a rotation. He's coming off a fairly solid 2011 season and might fly under the radar just enough for the Patriots to make him one of their patented sneaky good signings.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: On paper, at least, Allen isn't exactly a massive step up from the defensive backs already on the roster. New England's secondary underperformed last season, be it due to injuries, sophomore slumps, or lack of pass rush up front. While Allen is undoubtedly a talent, I'm not sure if the Patriots are going to look for another corner or stick with developing what they already have.
Overall: Like many free agents, I'd definitely bring him in for the right price. Once Carr and Finnegan are off the market, there is a drop-off in DB talent, which means there may not be a mad dash to acquire a player with Allen's skills. I'm hoping New England goes after a pass rush, then a safety, and if Allen is still around once those two positions have been shored up, then it makes a whole lot of sense.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Porter is just 26 years old and has shown that he can play at a high level. He isn't an elite corner by any means, but he has been a reliable member of a Saints secondary that has been very vulnerable as of late. He's likely to walk with New Orleans needing to focus their money keeping some bigger names on the team, and Porter can provide some much-needed depth to the Patriots secondary.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: Porter's play has fallen off since his Super Bowl sealing interception in 2009. He hasn't played poorly by any means, but his projection has definitely been trending the wrong direction as of late. His unreliability doesn't make him an instant fix, and it's very possible that the Pats will be looking for more of a playmaker this offseason.
Overall: Porter seems like the kind of player who would benefit from a change of scenery and would do well under coach Belichick. He isn't going to cost a lot of money to bring in, and he is another veteran presence to supplement New England's young secondary. I see no harm in signing him and giving him the chance to prove he can return to his 2009 form.
IF NEITHER OF US ARE MARRIED BY THE TIME WE'RE 40...
As long as it isn't Pacman Jones, I don't really care which of these free agent defensive backs sign with the team. Just as long as you can cover.