1. Timing Expected
As any casual Patriots fan will likely remember, James Ihedigbo struggled with a recurring shoulder injury through the latter parts of the 2011 season. While it was widely expected that the Patriots would eventually re-sign Ihedigbo, there was no rush to make the move as Ihedigbo underwent offseason shoulder surgery that would have held him out of offseason activities regardless. Now, the Patriots get a player they intended on signing all along, but didn't have to hold a roster spot for the majority of the offseason. Ihedigbo, from all indications, should be ready to go for training camp.
2. In a perfect world, Ihedigbo should project as the fourth safety
While the Patriots were fortunate that Ihedigbo was able to step into a major role and perform adequately in 2011, that's likely not a spot they want him in again in 2012. If all goes well, free agent pick-up Steve Gregory and 2nd round draft choice Tavon Wilson will be playing above Ihedigbo on the depth chart next year.
3. Ihedigbo should still have a role
While the Patriots likely don't want Ihedigbo playing the 70% of the snaps he did for the team in 2011, he could still carve a niche out for himself in 2012. Ihedigbo is very solid in run support and as a blitzer, and could still play a role in obvious running situations, as well as a designated blitzer in sub-packages. Keep in mind that although Ihedigbo recorded just one sack in 2011 with the Patriots (in the AFC Championship against the Ravens), he recorded five sacks between 2009 and 2010 with the Jets.
Two more thoughts after the jump!
4. Not a roster lock, but close
In projecting the Patriots safety depth chart, the three locks appear to be Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, and rookie Tavon Wilson. After that, it's a little bit more up in the air. Ihedgibo seems to be the next safety in line, and after that, the Patriots have Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown, Ross Ventrone, and Nate Ebner along the depth chart. Meanwhile, cornerbacks such as Ras-I Dowling, Alfonzo Dennard, Will Allen, Devin McCourty, and Sterling Moore could also factor in at the position. While the Patriots could opt to keep five at the safety position, the versatility of the cornerbacks could allow the team to only keep four. Going by that line of thinking, this would leave Ihedigbo, Barrett, Brown, Ventrone, and Ebner competing for one roster spot. It's still early, but Ihedigbo would seemingly have the early edge in that competition.
5. Patriots with one roster spot to fill.
The signing of James Ihedigbo means that the Patriots roster now stands at 89 players, one short of the maximum 90. The Patriots will likely opt to fill that spot before training camp. While there will likely be several other roster moves before training camp begins, the most logical candidate to fill that final vacant roster spot would be pass rusher Andre Carter.