Under Contract (2015 Week 1 Age): Darrelle Revis (30), Brandon Browner (31), Kyle Arrington (29), Logan Ryan (24), Malcolm Butler (25), Alfonzo Dennard (25), Justin Green (24), Daxton Swanson (24)
2014 Review: Revis has been the best free agent signing for the Patriots of the past decade. His individual value added is unparalleled in the Bill Belichick era, but he needs the longevity in order to compare with the Rodney Harrisons and the Mike Vrabels. Revis received the most votes in the entire league for 1st team All Pro cornerback in his first year in New England and it was extremely deserved.
Browner took a couple weeks to warm up out of his suspension, but he was truly a great addition to the defense. He picked up the torch that Brandon Spikes left open and added a fire to the defense with each one of his plays. Yes, the penalties added up, but that was to be expected and it really set the tone for the opposing wide receivers that the game wasn't going to be easy; Browner was coming after you every snap.
Arrington again proved his value as a quality slot receiver and, with some safety helped, managed to eliminate the Colts offense in two games this year (bye-bye T.Y. Hilton). He remaining a solid match-up cornerback and his added value can't be overlooked.
Ryan saw a slow sophomore season after a great rookie campaign; apparently this isn't unusual for the Rutgers defensive backs in New England. He isn't the best match-up for the tight man coverage and seems better suited for zone defense. His ball skills are still great, but his tenacity on the field reeked of overthinking.
Ryan allowed two key plays in the Super Bowl (Chris Matthews touchdown before the half, Ricardo Lockette 3rd down conversion on the final drive) that came down to poor reaction, which was in stark contrast to Butler's lack of hestitation in his play. Hopefully Ryan will elevate his play in his third season with the team, which is a trajectory we've seen on the Patriots defense with most prospects.
Butler was amazing when called upon, apart from getting toasted by Mike Wallace against Miami (coaches: this should be Arrington in coverage. That's all). He was aggressive, he attacked the ball, and he continued to grow as the season developed. He contributed on special teams and he looks to be a fixture on the Patriots defense next season.
Dennard lost time when Browner returned and his lack of special teams play dropped him down the depth chart. He's still a quality player, but it's likely his value will be better realized with less competition in the secondary (can you believe that I just wrote that sentence?).
The Patriots secondary were one of the best in the league in 2014 and can say they took the "Best Group in the League" belt from the Seahawks with the Super Bowl victory (yes, Seattle was injured). The remodeling of the cornerback prior to the 2014 season paid tremendous dividends and New England has to be extremely happy with the results, and very excited for the future prospects.
2015 Projection: Do you see the format of this post? There are no free agents at the cornerback position. That's not to say that there won't be tough choices, but that all of the choices are in the Patriots hands. Here are the major points:
1) Restructure Revis. He is under contract, but only so long as New England exercises the option. That's a death wish for the salary cap, but it's one multiple reports cite the Patriots willing to commit to. Still, both camps want Revis to stay in New England. The Patriots know he's the best corner in the game for what they want to accomplish on defense. Revis knows that in order for his legacy to be considered the best, he'll have to shed his mercenary title. Expect it to happen in the next three weeks.
2) Browner is due a $2 million roster bonus at the start of the league year, which is in addition to his $1.9 million salary if he makes the team. He also has additional escalators based upon playing time and game day activity- up to an additional $2.1 million if he played 85+% of snaps and is active for all sixteen games. In total, Browner stands to gain $6 million this season, which is solid money for a great number two. He'll be on the team, but let's see if his contract structure remains the same.
3) Kyle Arrington is a great slot corner. He really struggles on the outside. This is not new information, yet it seems to surface every year when Arrington gets burned with a bad match-up. Coaches, please stop doing that. That's all.
4) Alfonzo Dennard has fallen down the depth chart and it's uncertain if he'll resurface. He was a quality number 2 cornerback for the Patriots, but with Revis and Browner locking down the sidelines, it's difficult to see a role for a depth corner who doesn't really play special teams. With a player like Butler in the wings, it's hard to see Dennard finding a spot on the active roster.
It would make sense for the Patriots cornerbacks who played through the post-season to present the same line-up for the 2015 season. They're great players, they complement one another, and they offer the ability to match-up really well against myriad of different receivers. It's worth noting that the top three players (Revis, Browner, Arrington) will all be on the wrong side of 30 after the 2015 season, so it's possible the Patriots will invest in the future (again).
The team got off to a slow start in 2014; look for the secondary to come out on fire in 2015.