NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
With free agency and a season finally on the horizon, I figured I’d look at a position where free agency will probably not play a huge role this season for the Patriots. I’m going to tackle perhaps my favorite NFL position group, the defensive backs.
Generally Belichick carries 9-10 defensive backs on his Week 1 roster with some combination of 4-5 CBs and 4-5 Safeties. The way I see it, there are five players who, excluding the possibility of injuries, will definitely be on the week 1 roster for the Patriots: Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling and Patrick Chung. I wouldn’t say the rest of the squad is a toss-up, but it’s far from set in stone.
Darius Butler has almost single handedly cost Patriots losses at times and has also shown some promise. If Dowling doesn’t step in right away as the Patriots third CB, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Butler across from McCourty with Bodden covering the slot.
Brandon Meriweather’s off season issues were almost worth it when he was a top tier player, but despite his undeserving Pro Bowl appearance last season, he was a pretty big disappointment. It’s entirely possible that Belichick will finally deem Meriweather’s potential not worth his off field short comings. The latest of Meriweather’s character concerns came back in March in an unresolved shooting incident. James Sanders has been the prototypical Patriot since he was drafted six years ago. He’s not as talented a player as Chung or Meriweather, but his leadership skills and propensity for big plays when it counts will keep him on the roster.
The fourth safety might be the trickiest to figure out this season for the Patriots. New England could keep five safeties again, but the addition of Dowling and his ability to play CB or Safety could make that roster spot more valuable elsewhere.
There are four players currently on the Patriots roster in play for the position and two UFA’s who were under club control last season. Josh Barrett, Jarrad Page and Brandon McGowan might be the front runners, but Sergio Brown, Bret Lockett and Ross Ventrone could make things interesting.
McGowan was a valuable player for the Patriots in 2009 starting over Sanders due to his strength in physical coverage, especially against opposing tight ends. He was hurt all of last season, but he’s proven himself in the past as a starting caliber player and could come cheap for the Patriots. Page is a very similar player and is also a free agent. He didn’t find a lot of playing time last season behind Chung, Sanders and Meriweather, but he’s a big strong safety who also contributes on special teams.
Between missing all of last season and his bizarre supposed brush with reality royalty, I think Lockett is a long shot to make the team. Josh Barrett is an interesting player, as Belichick apparently liked him enough to sign him off waivers from the Broncos while he was injured and then keep him from injured reserve long enough so other teams couldn’t place a waiver claim on him. We haven’t seen him suit up for the Patriots yet, but a strong preseason could vault him in the 53 man roster. The fact that he’s signed for another season and not a free agent might help him.
I think Sergio Brown will make the Patriots at some point in his career again and could be a very good special teams player, but for now I think the practice squad is where he will be heading. It seems like there’s a Ventrone always hanging around in New England, doesn’t it? Ross might make the practice squad, but I doubt he’ll ever crack the 53 man roster.
My prediction is that Darius Butler, Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders and Brandon McGowan will round out the defensive backs on the Patriots roster. There are questions with all of these players, but ultimately I think they would make the strongest unit for New England.