The New England Patriots have issued their initial 53-man roster and it only includes four cornerbacks. While four-man cornerback groupings aren't strange to Bill Belichick- that was the roster make-up of choice prior to 2010- in this passing league and with the Patriots shaky positional depth, the decision deserves some scrutiny.
That isn't to say that Belichick doesn't know what he's doing. A betting man would put money on Belichick adding another cornerback to the roster early on in the season. But Belichick's intentions are interesting to evaluate.
Belichick typically designates 10 or so roster spots to the secondary and this year is no different. The four cornerbacks that made the team (Malcolm Butler, Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher, Logan Ryan) all could be called upon to start with varying degrees of consistency and success. The six safeties on the roster all offer special teams value (Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, and Nate Ebner), which led to Belichick's roster cuts.
The safeties that Belichick has targeted for the roster are versatile in their abilities. Second round pick Richards has experience covering in the slot, and every safety is expected to cover the opposing tight end. But it's Devin McCourty that allows the Patriots to play with just four corners.
New England, and McCourty, hopes that their All Pro free safety will never have to line up at cornerback, where he was an All Pro as a rookie. If the cornerbacks experience a long term injury, the Patriots will bring in an extra body. But if the Patriots see enough injuries to their cornerback position in the middle of a game, then McCourty adds value due to the restrictions of the 45-man game day roster.
Belichick fiddled with McCourty at cornerback in the preseason for a reason. The safety offers value all over the defense and allows the head coach to have an extra roster spot on game day. McCourty won't be lining up at cornerback on a regular basis- but his value allowed Belichick to change his roster make-up.