The Patriots need for a number one cornerback might just have shot back to the top of their list.
Forget about protecting Tom Brady with the offensive interior line. Those at defensive tackle might have to make due.
Don't bet on Aqib Talib coming back to New England.
Things looked rosy when Washington offered the 30-year-old DeAngelo Hall a highly inflated 4 year, $17 million contract. Hall is no where near a top cornerback and everyone shook their head at another foolish signing by team owner Dan Snyder. $4.25 million per season (good for top 30 out of corners) is far too much money for a middle-to-bottom tier corner.
I thought that this inflated price would be understood by other teams. I thought it would take out Washington from the Talib running. Turns out, both assumptions were wrong.
Washington is still expressing a desire to sign Talib, and cornerback contracts are getting more ridiculous by the day.
31 year old Brent Grimes to Miami for 4 years, $32 million ($8mm per season, 12th most out of cornerbacks).
Edit: 28 year old Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is likely signing with the Broncos, per Peter King.
26 year old Sam Shields to Green Bay for 4 years, $39 million ($9.75mm per season, 7th most out of cornerbacks).
25 year old Alterraun Verner is going to sign first thing on Tuesday, and he's expected to be the highest paid out of any corner in free agency.
Oh, and Talib wants to be in the $9 million to $10 million range (top 6 money, likely to be top 5 once a few players restructure).
The Patriots missed the boat on signing Talib before all these deals were announced, and you can be certain that Talib was in no rush to get to the port.
Now don't get me wrong, the Patriots have the cap space. They could offer Talib the money and bring him back. But now they have to ask themselves if he's even worth it.
Talib was undeniably the best corner in football for the first six games of the season, before a hip injury took him out against the Saint. After that, he was sub-mediocre and clearly not the same player. He looked like 2012 Talib- a solid, if not unspectacular player who allows the Patriots to change their defensive style.
But the style only works when he's playing efficiently and that has been far and few between. I'd feel comfortable saying that Talib's only played like an elite corner a third of the time. $8 million per season is pushing it. $10 million is out of the question. Once Davis and Verner sign their deals? See you later.
Assuming Vince Wilfork restructures his contract, Talib's expected deal would place him as the third most expensive cap hit on the roster, behind Tom Brady and Logan Mankins. The Patriots structure their contracts in a meritocracy and while a healthy Talib could make the argument for being the third most important person on the field, that's not the Patriots expectation for who would be the receiving end of the contract.
Value-wise, Talib's price tag is astronomical for what he provides. The way the market is moving, Talib will cost more than the Patriots have allotted.
In my opinion, the Patriots would be better off investing on top defensive tackle prospects to generate more consistent pressure and signing a mid-tier cornerback, like Captain Munnerlyn, Corey Graham, or Tarell Brown.
Belichick operates by setting a price tag on what he's willing to pay to fill a vacancy. Let's assume he's set the need at $8.5mm per season at cornerback, and he's willing to spend $3mm per season at defensive tackle (a little bit more than what Tommy Kelly is costing).
The original hope that Talib can sign for $8.5mm per season is falling through the cracks, so why not sign one of those alternatives for $4mm-$5mm per season and distribute the open cap space to defensive tackle? So instead of signing a defensive tackle in the Tommy Kelly price range, they can afford someone with a top tier price tag, like Randy Starks or Linval Joseph.
Heck, they could spread those savings across both the defensive tackle and defensive end positions and see a more positive result. Because the Patriots defensive is one of the most reliant on pressure in the entire league. Their defense is elite when they can pressure the opposition. They're at the bottom of the league when they can't reach the quarterback.
Talib is an elite corner. But he's not the only solution. If the Patriots are forced to pay him what the market is demanding, they could be left without the ability to fill other holes on the roster.