NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
The Patriots were not expected to make a trade at yesterday’s deadline, but Bill Belichick surprised by trading New England’s fourth-round selection to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their starting left cornerback, Aqib Talib, and a seventh-round pick in 2013; Talib is currently serving a four-game suspension after testing positive for Adderall and will not be eligible to return until November 18th. NEPD Editor Mike Loyko covered the trade in depth here; I have added some additional thoughts of my own below.
What type of player is Talib?
The first thing that stands out about Talib is his size; at 6’1” and 205 pounds, Talib is easily New England’s biggest cornerback. Talib’s 18 career interceptions and 53 career passes defensed are evidence of his outstanding ball skills, and he has the athleticism to match up in man coverage as well: Talib ran a 4.44 second 40-yard dash at the 2008 NFL Combine, along with a 38” vertical leap and an exceptional 6.82 second cone drill.
In Tampa Bay, Talib was asked to play both man and zone coverage; the Buccaneers employed zone coverage almost exclusively during Talib’s first years with the team, but recently their emphasis has predominantly shifted towards man coverage. He has struggled in coverage over the past two seasons, surrendering seven touchdowns, and may be better suited in New England’s zone coverages, where he was significantly more successful early in his career.
Talib is capable of pressing wide receivers at the line and is considered effective in run support as well. His best fit in New England may be as the Patriots’ starting right cornerback.
How does Talib improve New England’s secondary this season?
Talib should immediately become one of New England’s starting cornerbacks; Devin McCourty could stay at left cornerback, move to the right side, or become a full-time free safety. Assuming McCourty remains at cornerback, Talib would become the opposite starter, with rookie Alfonzo Dennard sliding into the slot.
Talib also minimizes the impact of Ras-I Dowling’s season-ending thigh injury. The Patriots released Sterling Moore this week, so the fourth and fifth cornerbacks on New England’s depth chart are currently Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole, both of whom suffered injuries in last week’s game (a head injury for Arrington, a leg injury for Cole.)
The Patriots may still want to investigate other potential free agent signings over their bye week in case either Arrington or Cole is unable to play in next week’s game.
What was Tampa Bay’s motivation for trading Talib?
Talib’s expiring ontract adds to the intrigue of this trade, as he was owed less than $1 million for the rest of the season; Tampa Bay’s decision cut Talib loose considering his manageable salary is concerning, especially considering that they are a playoff contender and they would likely have acquired a compensatory pick for him at the end of the season.
Talib’s struggles thus far in 2012 (24/36, 399 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 6 PD, 101.5 rating against) may have prompted concerns that he was not well-suited to Tampa’s man-coverage schemes; the Buccaneers otherwise would have been forced to decide whether or not to give a struggling player with character concerns a contract extension. Talib’s off-the-field concerns likely gave Tampa Bay’s regime reason to pause; he is currently serving a four-game suspension and has drawn criticism for previous legal troubles, most notably arrests for simple battery in 2009 and aggravated assault in 2011.
Bill Belichick’s close relationship with Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano may have also helped facilitate the trade.
How does the trade impact New England’s offseason strategy?
Most significantly, acquiring Talib gives the Patriots flexibility in their upcoming negotiations with strong safety Patrick Chung; if Talib is willing to sign for less than Chung, New England could opt to shift Devin McCourty from cornerback to free safety and slide either 2012 second-round pick Tavon Wilson or starting free safety Steve Gregory into the starting strong safety spot, with Talib assuming the starting left cornerback role.
One of the most interesting aspects of the trade is Talib’s contract, which is set to expire at the end of the season; whether Talib and the Patriots discussed an extension prior to the trade is anyone’s guess. The most logical move would be to wait and see how Talib performs over the rest of the season, although it’s possible that New England would not have been willing to sign off on the trade if they expected Talib to last just half of a season with the team.
What this means for Ras-I Dowling is anyone’s guess; the 2011 second-round pick has played well when he’s been on the field, but two consecutive season-ending injuries could put his roster spot in jeopardy, especially considering that Dowling hasn’t seen the field often even when healthy.
How will this affect New England’s strategy in the 2013 NFL Draft?
The trade leaves New England with just five draft choices remaining: their first, second, third, and seventh-round selections, as well as Tampa Bay’s seventh-round pick. The Patriots previously traded their fifth and sixth-round picks away last year in order to acquire WR Chad Johnson and DT Albert Haynesworth from the Bengals and Redskins, respectively.
Although defensive end Mark Anderson signed a lucrative four-year pact with the Buffalo Bills this offseason, New England cannot expect any compensatory picks considering the high volume of free agents they themselves signed; the amount of incoming vs. outgoing free agents is speculated to be a significant factor in the NFL’s secret compensatory pick attribution process. This means that the Patriots must rely on additional trades if they wish to replenish their stock of draft picks; the trades may force Belichick to move down repeatedly and will likely prevent him from moving up again, as the Patriots did this past April in order to select defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
If New England opts to re-sign Talib, cornerback may become more of a luxury than a priority.